Criminal justice system

The Gazette today launches its first installment in an ongoing look at Colorado's criminal justice system.

Crime and punishment in the state has been in tumult for years. Politicians, policymakers and corrections administrators have tried to find ways to reduce prison populations, scale back punishments and focus on rehabilitation with a raft of reforms, including the elimination of the death penalty and the reduction of solitary confinement. Meanwhile, scandals have emerged in nearly every aspect of the system, from violence in juvenile halls, a parole system that can barely keep up with the volume of offenders transitioning back to society, and  inmate deaths that call into question the overall safety of the system designed to rehabilitate people and protect the public. In the midst of those issues, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections was assassinated at his doorstep.

The Gazette's review comes at a time when Gov. Jared Polis has reached out to stakeholders and policy makers, asking them to help him ensure that Colorado will lead the nation in criminal-justice reform. A new executive director of the Corrections Department, Dean Williams, also has pledged to reform the state's prison system, which continues to struggle with high recidivism rates.

Polis has announced his priorities are reduced recidivism, sentencing without bias, pretrial process reforms and reducing the involvement of, and improving outcomes for, juveniles in the justice system.

Today's article from The Gazette investigates the state's troubled community corrections system, which is taking in an increasingly violent mix of offenders into local halfway houses already struggling with staff sexual misconduct, drug use, violence and health and safety hazards.

In preparing that article the Gazette reviewed more than 4,000 pages of documents, encompassing three years of critical incident reports, 11 years of corrections data, five years of audit reports, recommendations from a state community corrections task force and meeting minutes of local community corrections boards and the Governor's Community Corrections Advisory Council. The newspaper also took the first public look at a new set of evaluation tools for halfway house providers that the state started using this year.

The ongoing series will explore topics like recent reforms to the juvenile justice system, Colorado's high-recidivism parole program, culture changes at the state's prisons and the state's handling of female convicts.

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