This week, I'm reporting on the work of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). I'm one of a few legislator members on this commission, and we've been meeting for more than a year now. The commission was set up by legislation in 2007.
Today, the costs of incarceration and with criminal reoffending have climbed to $713 per Colorado household, up from $371 in 1982, with figures adjusted for inflation. Another number to consider is 98 percent of those put in prison return to our communities. Warehousing prisoners without a focus on offender rehabilitation may be shortsighted in a number of ways.
At a time when our budget shortfall for this year alone is more than $600 million, we're looking to see where to cut state expenses. The questions facing this commission, and all legislators, are: What kind of return is Colorado getting on the money it spends on the criminal justice system, and are there ways we can get more value out of each dollar spent there?
This last Friday, the commission had its regular monthly meeting. On Fridays, the Legislature usually adjourns around noon so members can travel home to their districts.
When the commission meets, though, I stay in Denver because our meetings go through the entire afternoon. The meetings are so filled with information that I get more out of them by attending in person than by phone.
The commission's chairman is Peter Weir, a former district attorney and judge who is the head of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Weir runs an efficient and action-packed meeting while allowing enough room for an exchange of ideas among commission members. This is one of the most "value-added" meetings I regularly attend.
The exchange at these meetings often is lively and sometimes quite heated, given the membership is made up of district attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, the heads of many state agencies such as corrections, human services, the adult and juvenile parole boards and the attorney general. Also represented are higher education, victims, police chiefs, county commissioners, mental health treatment providers, sheriffs and legislators.
In the future, I and other members of the commission will be making ourselves available for town hall meetings and public speaking to interested groups. If you belong to an organization that might want to hear more about these topics, please let me know. I believe public safety is one of the core functions of government and that Colorado must spend some of its limited resources in this area. If you disagree with that basic premise, let me know.
The challenge then becomes defining, as a state, what is public safety, how much we are willing to spend on it and where do we spend that money most effectively. I hope people, especially those in my district, will get involved in this important conversation with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission.
Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 59th District in the state House of Representatives. Reach her by phone at the Capitol, (303) 866-2914; fax (303) 866-2218; home phone 259-1589 or through her Web site, email@example.com.