This is the second in a three part series on Criminal Justice. You can read my overview here.

As your Attorney General, I will work hard to make sure our criminal justice system is fair and just—and that it works for communities and law enforcement.  I will also ensure that our law enforcement agencies receive the proper tools and training to be safe and to keep our communities safe.  Finally, I will work with our rural law enforcement agencies to help them receive the support they need to be effective.

Supporting and Enhancing Law Enforcement
Providing Modern Tools & Training to Law Enforcement and Prosecutors 

Colorado’s law enforcement officers and prosecutors must have the tools and training to respond effectively to threats to the public’s physical and financial safety.  To ensure that our first responders have access to 21st century technology, I worked with President Obama on a bipartisan initiative to develop a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety (FirstNet).  With bipartisan approval in our State Legislature, this FirstNet initiative is now moving forward in Colorado to provide the communications infrastructure that we need to protect public safety.

Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated technology to commit crimes, and identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States.  To combat this troubling trend and protect Coloradans’ financial well-being, I will work to provide our law enforcement officers with the latest technological and investigative capabilities to fight computer-based crime.  I will also work with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help victims of identity theft get back on their feet and prevent any further harm.  As your next Attorney General, I will continue to look for innovative ways to use technology to protect public safety.

 Supporting Rural Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

Over the last decade, I have gotten to know parts of our state that have very limited law enforcement resources and demand the support of the Attorney General.  I am committed to providing full support for our law enforcement officers and prosecutors in rural areas to secure the safety of every Coloradan.  That’s why the Attorney General’s office has a Major Crimes Unit; that unit was created to support rural Colorado and I will ensure that it used in that manner.

The effectiveness of our criminal justice system as a whole depends on the effectiveness of every one of our judicial districts.  As Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, I collaborated with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council to develop the District Attorney fellowship program to place recent Colorado law graduates in rural district attorney offices in Colorado.  This program encourages exceptional young lawyers to support prosecutors in areas that are under-resourced and underserved.

De-escalating Crisis Situations

When Ken Salazar was our Attorney General, he established a statewide law enforcement training program to ensure that all law enforcement officials were trained effectively.  The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training—or “POST” program—continues to be housed in the Attorney General’s office.  POST ensures that Colorado’s public safety officers, including the police, are provided with de-escalation training aimed at reducing the number of violent confrontations between the police and Colorado citizens, and supports building community partnerships based on mutual trust and respect.  Under my leadership, I will work to develop a POST repository of law enforcement officials who are fired for disciplinary violations so that such officers are not later hired by other agencies who don’t know of past misconduct.

Because of Ken Salazar’s visionary leadership, Colorado is one of only a few states to mandate statewide training of law enforcement, and Colorado has taken concrete steps to address the potential for the use of excess force by law enforcement officers.  As we saw in a Toronto interaction earlier this year, when law enforcement officials act to de-escalate interactions, it can make an enormous difference.  And we just recently saw in the tragic death of Antwon Rose, a promising unarmed young black man shot when he was running away from a crime scene, a heartbreaking reminder of the need to address this issue with vigilance and a sense of urgency.

As Attorney General, I will emphasize the importance of trainings aimed at de-escalation, and I will also work to ensure that Colorado’s officers are trained in identifying and responding appropriately to incidents involving individuals with serious mental illness.  Denver, for example, has implemented a successful Co-Responder model where trained mental health professionals are dispatched with police officers to calls involving mentally ill individuals.  This has resulted in safer outcomes for officers and community members, and in appropriate cases, diversion to mental health treatment instead of jail.  By supporting such programs, we will reduce the burden on our criminal justice system and decrease the number of violent episodes that endanger police officers and our communities.

Improving the Justice System
Reforming Cash Bail

As Attorney General, I will ensure that individuals entering the criminal justice system are treated fairly and that their futures are not compromised when not necessary to protect public safety.  Our current system of bail too often keeps people in jail who are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond.  That’s wrong.  Like other states that have reformed cash bail, we can and must do better by providing individualized assessments, using supervised release programs, and enabling people awaiting trial to live productive lives.  Furthermore, I will support HB 1081, which ensures court notifications—by text message or others means—are sent to those awaiting trial.  By using such a system, we can reduce the population of people incarcerated because they failed to appear in court, often because they forgot about an appointment.  In short, we need leadership on how to reduce the population of our jails, which often holds people who cannot afford bail or who were locked up for forgetting about a court date.

Improving Outcomes for Those Already Incarcerated

Coloradans with criminal convictions struggle to re-enter the workforce, find stable housing, get access to quality health care, and maintain a steady paycheck—challenges that greatly increase the chances that they will be rearrested and re-incarcerated.  As Attorney General, I will lead efforts that focus on reentry into society for those already in the criminal justice system, using the AG’s office to provide statewide leadership on re-entry coordination, as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has done.  In addition to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, inmates need access to job training, apprenticeship opportunities, and educational offerings to help prepare them for life after incarceration, such as those provided by Cross-Purpose, a remarkable community-based program in Denver.  I will work hard to promote and develop such programs to lower the rates of those leaving our jails and prisons ended up re-incarcerated.

Juvenile Justice System Reform:  Prevention and Diversion Opportunities 

The juvenile justice system presents an important opportunity to ask whether and how we can divert individuals from the criminal justice system.  All too often, when individuals enter the criminal justice system as teenagers, they begin a lifelong vicious cycle.  We need to stop the “school to prison pipeline” and instead help all students—regardless of their ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds— to succeed.  To do that, we must invest in programs that provide productive alternatives to youth during the times when they are most at risk of committing crimes.  And when individuals are arrested as teenagers, we should also evaluate the opportunity to use effective diversion programs, such as outdoor leadership and treatment programs, which can change the trajectory of young lives.

Resisting the Criminalization of Marijuana

Many American inmates are currently incarcerated for nonviolent offenses—frequently drug offenses—that carry harsh and unnecessary minimum sentences.  As a result, we’ve seen a steady expansion of the inmate population, which ultimately fails to make our communities any safer.  In Colorado, by legalizing marijuana, we took an important step away from this approach.

Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, communities across the state have put the revenue from marijuana taxation to good use.  Last year, 210 high school seniors in Pueblo received $2,000 each from a cannabis tax-funded scholarship program established by Pueblo County.  Also last year, Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill providing that Colorado’s $105 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in the 2016-2017 fiscal year would go to a fund supporting housing programs for the homeless, assisting mental health programs in jails, and contributing to health resources at local schools.

As Attorney General, I will work with other leaders in Colorado, as well as with Attorneys General in other states that have legalized marijuana, to fight Attorney General Jeff Session’s hostility to the legalization of marijuana.  The steps we have taken in Colorado to decriminalize marijuana provide an important first step in treating drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.  By providing drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, we can invest in people living productive lives, thereby avoiding a continuing cycle of incarceration.

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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.