CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
The United States represents 5% of the world's population but incarcerates 25% of the world's prison population. That means 1 in 4 incarcerated individuals in the world are inside United States jails and prisons. Our reliance on jails and prisons funnels dollars to the department of corrections and private corporations rather than into programs that really enhance public safety.
Colorado has the fifth highest recidivism rate in the country. Leslie believes that true public safety means ensuring that our neighbors re-entering into society are ready to succeed, not just sent back to prison. To address Mass Incarceration Leslie has: Ensured that folks are released on bond in a timely manner - even if they are unable to pay [SB19-191]; Prohibited employers from asking about criminal history on initial job applications [HB19-1025]; Eliminated bail for low level offenses [HB19-1225]; Eliminated driver’s license revocations for non-driving related infractions, which impacts over 100,000 a year [HB21-1314]; Banned courthouse arrests for undocumented immigrants seeking justice [SB21-083].
Leslie is fighting to re-think the entire prison system. Through one on one meetings, DOC letter correspondence, and more, Leslie works hand in hand with crime survivors, criminal justice reform advocates, those involved with the criminal justice system, and their families to ensure that criminal justice reform policies are coming from those with lived experience. Additionally, Leslie is thinking outside of the box by looking at systems that work across the globe.
Closing Private Prisons.
There are two main types of prison systems in the US -- public and private. Just as it sounds, private prisons are run by private companies, not the Government (although they can receive Government funding). Their business model and profit margins depend on how many people are locked up in their facility. These facilities have little oversight and zero incentive to provide livable conditions for incarcerated populations. Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 32% compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 3%. As of 2021 there are 3 active private prisons in Colorado.
Private Prisons put profit over people and rehabilitation. These institutions do nothing to make communities safer, they in fact benefit when they’re not. In 2020 Leslie directed the Colorado Department of Corrections to study how to phase out private prisons in Colorado by 2025 [HB20-1019]. Leslie will continue fighting to ensure the extinction of these institutions in Colorado.
Nearly one in 20 black men and one in 50 Hispanic men are behind bars in Colorado, compared to only one in 150 white men. Data confirms that this disparity isn’t because of differences in criminal activity, but rather inequities in the criminal justice system. To address this disparity, Leslie reduced the sentencing for various drug-related offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor [HB19-1263].
Additionally, every year, state lawmakers enact laws that create new crimes or make more severe already existing crimes. Instead of taking the "tough on crime" approach, Leslie believes we should be “smart on crime”, prioritizing rehabilitation. Alternatives in sentencing deserve a serious look. Relying on alternatives to jails and prisons for low-level, low-risk offenders can lead to increased public safety. Leslie will continue to prioritize programs that truly increase public safety.
For many years, reliance on severe discipline in schools, such as out of school suspensions, expulsions, police tickets, and school-based arrests has harmed students, families, and schools. For many school-aged children, an at-school disciplinary matter can be their first encounter with police and the criminal justice system. Encounters with the criminal justice system causes many Colorado youth and their families to go into debt for court related fines and fees. This burden pushes families deeper into poverty, further inhibiting rehabilitation. Leslie eliminated court fines and fees for youth involved in the criminal justice system, clearing Colorado youth and their families of $58 million in fines and fees [HB21-1315]. Leslie will continue fighting to ensure that youth receive access to mental and emotional support, not handcuffs and jail cells.
For too long Colorado has short-changed mental health services and programs to deal with alcohol and substance abuse. Our jails and prisons have become de facto mental health institutions and drug and alcohol rehab centers. Leslie has long believed that we must reverse this reliance and instead invest dollars to help people deal with these serious issues before they morph into criminal behavior.
Leslie has passed a number of bills addressing substance misuse both in and out of the criminal justice system. This includes legislation that requires correctional facilities to provide opioid agonist and opioid antagonists, creates safe stations that allow folks to dispose of controlled substances without being subject to arrest, mandates that the DOC and county jails ensure that continuity of care is provided prior to an inmate’s release, encourages record sealing, increases diversion programming, and increases community resources for those reentering into society [HB20-1017].
Additionally, there is little support for crime survivors. Leslie works to increase survivor’s access to support services including creating the Community Crime Survivors Grant Program [HB18-1409]. Leslie will continue advocating for mental health support services for those who come in contact with the criminal justice system and those who survive crime.