Colorado Lawmakers Sunset Criminal Justice Commission for Holding Back Reform

By The Vanguard Staff

DENVER, CO – Criminal justice reform-minded lawmakers shut down a 30-member Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice this week because, according to progressive Democrats, they believed the commission was holding back reform, as reported by the Colorado Sun (CS).

The 30-member commission, which for nearly two decades helped guide the legislature on criminal justice policy, lacked racial diversity and had become too favorable to prosecutors, serving as a roadblock to change, the CS wrote.

“Formed by state lawmakers in 2007, the commission…(the) panel is made up of legislators, prosecutors, representatives of the court and community members and was intended to help remove partisanship from the process of drafting criminal justice reform policy. Members of the panel are appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and legislative leadership,” according to the CS.

The CW said the commission “led a rewrite of the state’s criminal code to downgrade the penalties for misdemeanors and reclassify a number of crimes as lower-level offenses. This year, three bills debated in the legislature originated in the CCJJ, including a rewrite of the state’s auto theft laws.”

But, Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and criminal justice reformer who sits on the commission, said “she initially found the CCJJ to be a place where a committed group of people could work on policy to move Colorado forward. But her opinion changed,” reported the Sun.

“It was my understanding that the CCJJ was meant to be a place free from politics where you could dive into issues, as difficult or complicated or nuanced as they may be. But increasingly CCJJ became a place where we, as a legislature, sent things that we didn’t really want to study or wanted to slow down,” she said, per the CS, and was one of the leading voices pushing for the commission to be disbanded.

Gonzales said she and others had concerns there wasn’t enough racial or geographic diversity on the panel, nor enough people who had “lived experience” with the criminal justice system, reported the Sun.

Senate Bill 158, a measure reauthorizing the commission, was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday afternoon on a party-line vote, with nine members of the panel rejecting the legislation and four voting to advance it. 

Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Denver Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said, according to the CS, “As well intentioned as CCJJ might have been at some point, it’s often used as a sword and shield and as a filter blocking progress and progress is needed.” 

Rep. Bob Marshall said, “My progressive colleagues weren’t thrilled with what was coming out of it but to me that’s the wrong reason to not re-authorize it, It was pretty clear it was becoming an extra obstacle for the legislature to do its job, rather than an assistant,” the Colorado Sun wrote.

The CS said the state’s District Attorneys’ Council and Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police pushed for the continuation of the commission, while the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and Colorado Freedom Fund opposed reauthorizing the panel. 

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