Everyone knows prison populations have soared in the past few decades. Still, it’s startling to look at the actual numbers:

The Colorado Department of Corrections’ budget has climbed from $57 million in 1985 to $702 million this year, and the state’s prison population grew 400 percent from 4,000 in 1985 to 20,000 in 2005. If the state stays on its current course , the prison population will increase by nearly 25 percent by 2013, officials say.

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice was established by law in 2007. Its purpose is “to engage in an evidence-based analysis of the criminal justice system in Colorado” and make an annual report to the Governor and the legislature. Having spent the past months studying what other states have done, it will now get to work making recommendations for Colorado. It has set an ambitious agenda:

  • Study the disproportionate number of minorities who are incarcerated in Colorado.
  • Study parole and community corrections.
  • Reduce recidivism.
  • Study parole and community corrections.
  • Focus on juvenile programs and policies.
  • Focus on crime prevention.
  • Review sentencing and parole laws.

The Commission’s 26 voting members consist primarily of “legislators, prosecutors, police chiefs, sheriffs and state officials.” Gov. Ritter named 12 appointees to the Commission last October, two of whom are criminal defense attorneys. Our prison population is expected to rise by 25% over the next six years. The Commission is a positive step in the right direction. Our over-reliance on incarceration during the past two decades simply has not worked. Director Peter Wier says the commission is open to suggestions from the public. If you have any on the topics of crime prevention, alternatives to incarceration, reducing recidivism, juvenile justice or sentencing, you can attend their meetings and pass them on.