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The Case for Further Sentencing Reform in Colorado

IP-1-2011 (January 2011)
Author: Mike Krause

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The first and most basic duty of Colorado’s criminal justice system is to protect the innocent from force and fraud. And as a government service, the roughly $32,000 (average cost)1 taxpayers spend annually per state prisoner is a good bargain for the separation of violent and predatory criminals from the public.

But over the last several decades Colorado has embarked on a massive incarceration campaign. This campaign has in turn required an extreme and unprecedented state spending spree that has pushed corrections spending in Colorado from less than 3 percent to almost 9 percent of Colorado’s General Fund appropriation, with an often less-than-clear public safety benefit.

While this extreme prison spending spree has been bipartisan in nature, the participation over the years of lawmakers who consider themselves “fiscal conservatives” is particularly troubling. As such a dramatic increase in the questionable use of incarceration as a crime control strategy, and the attendant runaway prison spending violates many of the principles generally associated with a “fiscally conservative” political philosophy.