Ritter Says Plan Would Save Millions; Critics Urge Caution
10:31 AM, Oct 30, 2008
After William VanOstol got out of prison the second time, he said he found a way to never go back."It's easy to get lost and get back into an unhealthy lifestyle, but as long as you got resources, you can get over the hurdles of getting back into society because you got people there to help you, he said.At the John Inman Work and Family Center, a re-entry program is helping him find work and hope."It's constant, intensive case management," said Nicole Lewis, a community re-entry specialist.She said the program is designed to help offenders with issues ranging from housing to mental health."We can help reduce the recidivism rate because they know to come back if life happens," she said.It's that type of program that would expand under the package that Gov. Bill Ritter, a former prosecutor, presented before the Colorado Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission on Thursday."There is a group that I think will respond to substance abuse counseling, mental health services and assistance in improving their education level," said Ritter.He said the plan would improve public safety, while saving public dollars. He said his proposal to reduce the number of felons who commit new crimes and go back to jail could save taxpayers $380 million over five years, including $336 million by eliminating the need to expand a prison in Trinidad."We think we can do enough that ultimately we can avoid building a $360 million addition to a prison in Colorado," he said.But some law enforcement agents are concerned that may be jumping the gun."I don't know how how realistic those assumptions are," said John Suthers, Colorado's attorney general.He agreed the state should look for a way to reduce recidivism, but said history shows prison populations are on the rise."I'm a little concerned we're projecting a reduction in prison beds and saying, 'Oh gosh, we don't have to build another prison in Colorado,'" said Suthers.More than half of Colorado's offenders go back to prison within three years of being released, but Suthers said if prosecutors are putting the right kinds of offenders behind bars, there will always be a relatively high rate of recidivism.Ritter's proposal would increase spending in prevention services for youth, substance abuse services and transition services to help offenders integrate back into the community.