An obscure court decision the other day exposed another gaping hole in Colorado’s justice system — a hole carved out by two of the state legislature’s most unabashed apologists for criminals.
The ruling itself, by the Colorado Court of Appeals last week, made sense. As reported by our news affiliate Colorado Politics, the court told a career criminal with a lengthy record, including for drugs and assault, that he will have to serve out the 62-month prison sentence he was handed in 2019 for skipping out on parole a year earlier.
But the convict’s unsuccessful appeal was based on a recently enacted law that represents a troubling development in its own right. It significantly lowered the penalty for escaping while on parole — and underscores the ongoing campaign by the state’s policy makers to lead Colorado from law and order into chaos.
State Rep. Leslie Herod and state Sen. Julie Gonzales, both Denver Democrats, sponsored 2020’s Prison Population Reduction And Management Act, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis. The legislation tweaked assorted laws to lower the number of convicts behind bars — just in time to fuel Colorado’s mounting crime wave.
One of the bill’s provisions watered down the penalties for escape. Notably, it created a less serious offense of “unauthorized absence” to replace the state’s escape law for convicts who flee parole, halfway houses and work-release programs. For prisoners who were doing time for all but violent or “serious” crimes, the legislation made it a mere misdemeanor to escape parole, a halfway house or work release. Previously, it was a felony.
Perhaps Herod and Gonzales felt parolees simply have better things to do with their lives than serve out their sentences or repay their debt to society. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, right? So what if it jeopardizes public safety?
As it turned out, the perpetrator who had attempted to invoke the new law in last week’s court ruling was sentenced before the law was enacted. So, Herod and Gonzales came to the rescue too late to spring him loose. Tough luck for him — good fortune for the rest of society.
But consider how many other convicts on parole, in halfway houses or in work release now find it all the easier to escape with minimal consequences — as a result of Herod and Gonzales’ bill. And plenty of inmates in those transitional programs pose a serious danger to society.
As noted here earlier this week, a 2019 law — also authored by Herod and Gonzales — restricted parole officers’ ability to return parolees to prison for a range of “technical violations.” They were the kinds of parole violations that would have put Gregory Whittemore — a convicted sex offender on parole — back behind bars. But Senate Bill 143 kept him out on the streets. His parole violations in fact alarmed his parole officers, but their hands were tied.
On Oct. 10, police in Colorado Springs arrested Whittemore — while still on parole — in the rape and killing of 27-year-old Allison Scarfone.
So many soft-on-crime bills have been passed by the legislature in the name of “justice reform” over the past few years that it would take years more to repair the damage done to our justice system. That’s assuming our legislature ever gets serious about fighting crime again.
Gonzales has risen to Senate Democratic leadership. Herod is now running for Denver mayor. Isn’t it about time to call them to account for turning criminals loose on our streets?