In his 1998-99 proposal to the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee on Monday, Colorado governor Roy Romer called for bipartisan support in reducing sentences for non- violent crimes, including low-level drug offenses. "The corrections operating budget will require 12 to 15 percent increases each year for the foreseeable future," he told the committee. This makes corrections the fastest growing section of the budget, he noted, and urged the legislature to work with him to consider parole, community corrections, and other alternatives to incarceration. "We've got to see where we're spending our money and see whether or not we've got (drug offenders) on the right kind of program," he said.
Romer would prefer to see the money saved on prison construction spent on youth initiatives. "I feel very strongly about education and the impact of those early years on children and their development," he said. "We have to get at these problems... earlier." His own budget proposal calls for a 3% overall increase in school spending, with $25 million reserved for new children's initiatives.
Romer applauded Colorado's Drug Court system, which offers mandatory treatment and probation as an alternative to prison for some drug offenders. Eric Ennis, Executive Director of Addiction Research and Treatment Services at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center agrees. "It does seem like our prisons are full of many people who aren't violent and aren't a tremendous risk to society," he told the Denver Post last week, "...on the other hand, sometimes people make their way to treatment because of the threat of going to prison."
Romer's proposal was greeted with skepticism by Joint Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Grampsas (R-Evergreen). "If we don't keep building prisons," Grampsas asked, "what do you want us to do? Keep them all out of state?"
But Department of Corrections director Ari Zavaras was less dismissive of Romer's suggestions. "Certainly the Governor believes as I do that someone dealing in drugs and creating havoc on the street should be confined," he said. "But sometimes you need to do things as effectively as possible. We'd be negligent if we didn't see if we can keep the level of public safety where it needs to be and do that through less expensive sanctions."
[Source: Denver Post, 11/11]
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