The issue of criminal justice is complex, and it impacts the life of every Coloradan. This blog is the first in a series of three that introduces my priorities and outlines my goals for a system that improves on our current one. In two additional posts, I talk about specific actions my office will take so that we can build a criminal justice system that supports law enforcement, treats people fairly, and keeps our communities safe.

It is essential for the Colorado Attorney General to prioritize the humane and just treatment of all citizens. This includes both victims of crimes and those individuals interacting with law enforcement.  My goal as your next Attorney General is to build trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and to ensure that everyone who interacts with our law enforcement system is treated fairly.

We can do better in how we manage our system of criminal justice.  In particular, we are incarcerating many people—especially young men of color—who do not belong in jail or prison.  Those who are a threat to public safety, such as those who are illegally manufacturing or selling drugs, for example, whether through pill mills, heroin sales, or otherwise, should be held accountable and deterred from continuing to act in violation of the law.  But the individual misuse of opioids (and other drugs) is more properly managed as a public health matter.  In short, we need to make sure that our criminal justice system distinguishes between the sources of illegal drugs and those who use them.  More generally, we should focus on incarcerating criminal drug producers and traffickers while diverting individuals with substance use disorders toward appropriate treatment programs—and we need to fund such programs so alternatives to incarceration exist.

Improving our criminal justice system also means developing data-tested policies for reducing the rates of crime.  One important way to do that is to reduce or eliminate the likelihood that those currently incarcerated will again turn to crime once released by investing in programs with a demonstrated track record of success.  By doing so, we will protect public safety and use our criminal justice resources for the good of all the people of Colorado.

Supporting Colorado’s Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

The Colorado Attorney General’s ability to help protect the public depends—in no small part—on the office’s support for the state’s law enforcement officials, first responders, and prosecutors.  As Attorney General, I will work hard to ensure that our dedicated public servants—in every corner of Colorado—have access to the latest tools, trainings, and technologies that will enable them to respond fairly and effectively to growing threats to the public safety as well as isolated natural or human-caused disasters.  I will also work to support victims and enable them to report crimes, particularly sexual assault or domestic violence, without fear of further harm, humiliation or embarrassment.

The Attorney General plays a significant role in law enforcement statewide.  Colorado Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), which was founded by Ken Salazar, is housed in the Attorney General’s office.  This program is responsible for law enforcement training standards for the entire state.  Whether someone is a cadet for Denver Police Department or the Gunnison Sheriff’s Office, the training requirements come from POST.

Improving an Overburdened Criminal Justice System

Arrest and incarceration are not always the only or the best options for all individuals who come into contact with our criminal justice system.  As noted above, for example, some diversion approaches—such as drug treatment options—can be more humane and more effective in protecting public safety.  As Attorney General, I will strongly support alternatives to arrest and incarceration for individuals who would be better served by mental health services, substance abuse treatment programs, or other community resources.  To support this direction, I will stand up to Jeff Sessions’ agenda to recriminalize marijuana.  In short, we need to be tough on crime where appropriate as well as be smarter about how we approach public health and criminal justice.

Building Statewide Cooperation and Coalitions

The Attorney General has the authority to prosecute cases that cross county and jurisdictional lines.  The office is uniquely situated to lead the effort on crimes that often cross borders, including human trafficking and large-scale drug operations. In practice, this means that the Attorney General’s office teams up with local District Attorneys to work on these cases across the state.  The Attorney General cannot and should not seek to be a “King DA”; our Attorney General needs to be a collaborator with local DA offices, partnering with them and providing them with the support they need to be successful.

Becoming a National Example of Innovation

As Attorney General, I will work to drive meaningful criminal justice improvements and data-tested innovations.  I will, for example, support experiments like the Transforming Safety initiative (which is designed to keep communities safer without incarcerating as many people), the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program (which moves low-level offenders into diversion programs outside the criminal justice system), and Defy Ventures (which prepares inmates through entrepreneurial training for lives after their release that do not include a return to crime).  For all such cases, we can and should test what works, putting more energy and resources behind proven programs.  If we can pull together and develop more effective strategies for reducing incarceration, we can at once keep people safe, treat victims of crime respectfully, and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Emphasizing the Fair and Humane Treatment of all Coloradans

Ensuring that all those who interact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are treated fairly and with dignity is crucial to keeping Coloradans safe.  It is important that we honor our Victims’ Rights Act and support victims during the legal process.  It is also important that we use our jails appropriately, not escalating situations unnecessarily to result in arrests or holding people in jail when they are not a threat to the public. Alternatives to incarceration must be developed and implemented, particularly those enabled by technology.  As Attorney General, I will take a tough, but smart, approach to law enforcement, treating every Coloradan with humanity and respect.

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We in Colorado are innovative and pride ourselves on fairness.  In criminal justice policy, we have considerable room for more innovation and a system that is both tough on crime when appropriate and smart about how best to keep our communities safe.  When we allow our criminal justice system to be stripped of empathy—and be divorced of humane solutions—we are not doing justice to the affected individuals or for our society.  Colorado can lead the nation in reforming our criminal justice system so that it serves its intended purpose—keeping people safe—without needlessly destroying lives.  Together, we can work together making Colorado a model for our nation in criminal justice improvement.