Drug Case Rise Fuels Prison Debate in Colorado

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Colorado prosecutors filed more than 15,200 felony drug cases in 2017, twice as many as they did in 2012, says a new report that has prompted renewed calls for sentencing reforms that send low-level drug offenders to treatment rather than prison, reports the Denver Post.  The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition found that 75 percent of felony drug filings last year were for simple possession. The increase in drug felony filings appears to have a disproportionate impact on women offenders. Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver and Rep. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs  said the report likely would give ammunition to those opposed to efforts by corrections officials to reopen a closed prison in Cañon City. Lee chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

Herod, Lee and Rep. Cole Wist are pushing bipartisan legislation to encourage using community corrections beds to handle a projected surge in prison populations. Lee said he doubted legislators have “much appetite for increasing the number of prison beds in Colorado.” The new report showed that a 2013 law meant to prioritize treatment over incarceration for offenders charged with drug possession isn’t working as intended and more reforms are needed, Lee said. He said that the legislature “should revisit the state’s drug sentencing structure, come up with some new ideas for reaching that original goal, and redouble efforts to steer people struggling with addiction into treatment rather than prisons.” The Joint Budget Committee meets Wednesday to consider budget proposals from corrections officials. A bipartisan task force Gov. John Hickenlooper formed to study prison population projections also is scheduled to meet Wednesday. The Colorado Department of Corrections has submitted a budget request that called for reopening Centennial Correctional Facility-South in Cañon City, a prison designed for solitary confinement that the state closed in 2013.

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