Colorado Prosecutors Blame ‘Leniency’ In Sentencing For Surge In Felony Crimes

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

Colorado has seen the state’s felony crime rate surge by nearly 50 percent in the last five years, and state prosecutors claim soft-sentencing reforms are to blame.

The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council argues that the state’s leap toward justice reform has allowed dangerous criminals to avoid prison and remain on the streets, The Denver Post reported Wednesday. Prosecutors particularly blame a 2013 drug sentencing bill that allowed low-level drug offenders to have their sentences reduced to misdemeanors and further constricted a judge’s ability to sentence drug offenders to prison. Attorneys from across the state claim that the sentencing reforms should be the prime suspect when trying to address the state’s uptick in crime.

“We should be responsible and honest when we have a discussion on what is driving crime rates in Colorado,” District Attorney Molly Chilson told The Post. “It includes some of the leniency we have seen in our system recently.”

District attorneys in the state also derided Colorado’s attempts to address over-incarceration, claiming that its recent push to keep more offenders on parole rather than in prison can only lead to more crime.

“There has been a lot of criminal justice reform in the last 10 years in Colorado,” said Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who said his office is overloaded with a surge in crime. “Sometimes those pushes go too far and the pendulum needs to swing a little bit back in the other direction. There was needed criminal justice reform, but not everything has to always be about diverting people away from prison.”

Prior to justice reforms, Colorado’s felony crime was on a steady drop, falling nearly 20 percent between 2007 and 2011. Since the reforms, however, felony crime has risen 46 percent from 35,551 in the 2012 to 51,775 in 2016. Meanwhile, the state’s population has only grown eight percent.

Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper has been resistant to prosecutors’ calls for change, however, claiming that the uptick in crime hasn’t been studied enough to determine that the reforms are to blame.

“We’re certainly concerned and want to understand it better,” Melmed said. “Until we have a better sense of what’s going on, I don’t think anyone right now can point to anything. No one really knows what’s behind this. It would be foolish to jump to any conclusions too quickly.”

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