Prisons in Colorado are overflowing with men and women serving life sentences. Why? One law change in 1998 has affected hundreds of inmates who remain in prison for indeterminate sentences without treatment.
The Lifetime Supervision Act: Condemned Many Sex Offenders to a Life in Prison
In 1998, a law was passed called The Lifetime Supervision Act which removed much of a judge's discretion when it came to sentencing a sex offender. Now, a judge is required to sentence a person who had been convicted of a sex crime in Denver, Adams or Arapahoe County such as Sexual Assault – C.R.S. 18-3-402 or Sexual Assault on a Child – C.R.S. 18-3-405 for an indeterminate amount of time. For example, a defendant would be sentenced to the Colorado Department of Corrections for 2 years to life. Their release would depend on receiving treatment, and the discretion of the Colorado Parole Board. This law was passed in order to monitor sex offenders for the remainder of their life, and the public was assured that prison sentences would not be altered. It didn't quite work out that way. For the following six years after the new law was passed, the parole board did not release a single sex offender. Instead, they were placed on a waiting list to receive treatment – and the list grew as the law put more men and women behind bars for life.
The Effects of the Lifetime Supervision Act in Denver, Larimer and Adams County
The number of people serving life sentences for sex offenses in Colorado is 41 times greater than back in 1998. In September, there were 1,719 inmates serving life sentences in the DOC. In 1998, before the act passed, there were only 42. While many people might view this increase as a good thing (thinking it makes the world a safer place), it is important to understand a couple of things:
1. A Sex Offender's Release Depends on Finishing Treatment
Before they can be released in Jefferson, Larimer and Douglas County, a convicted sex offender must complete sex offender treatment. Unfortunately, treatment cannot be provided quickly and efficiently because there simply aren't enough treatment providers – treatment is unavailable. So, inmates sit in prison on a waiting list – spending their life in prison. While the idea of those “dangerous sex offenders” being behind bars for life sounds good to the general public, it is important to understand that the label “sex offender” is very broad, and can include many varying degrees of offense.
2. Sex Offender Treatment Has Been One-Size-Fits-All
Sex offender treatment is overseen by the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB). They operate under the belief that sex offenders cannot be “cured”. And, thyy require that all sex offenders (no matter what crime they committed) undergo the same treatment. A serial rapist will go through the same program that a man who peed in public too many times will receive. Because of the lack of discernment, there are too many “sex offenders”, and not enough treatment providers.
Judges are frustrated by the Lifetime Supervision Act and the implications it has on the men and women they are sentencing. Former DOC chief Tom Clements warned that “some judges are currently stating on record that they will not sentence sex offenders to DOC since they will not get treatment and will be in prison for life.”
Is Change in the Air for Sex Offender Sentencing?
DOC officials can't change the law, but they can change the rules about sex offender treatment. For the first time since 1998, officials will begin classifying sex offenders by risk level. Department Deputy Executive Director Kellie Wasko says that for “the first time ever, we're actually going to be treating offenders by their risk needs. We will no longer have one-size-fits-all treatment.” A new curriculum is focusing on low-risk offenders. It will allow them to complete treatment in four to eight months. There will be a backlog of sex offenders awaiting treatment, but hope is in the air.
Considering it costs Colorado taxpayers $32,000 a year to house a sex offender, doesn't it make sense to hire more treatment personnel? If a treater can work with even three groups of ten men per day (30), five days a week, that is 150 inmates in full-time treatment. The annual cost to house these 150 men is $4,800,000. I'll bet a therapist can be found to work for much less and reduce the costly backlog.Request a Free Consultation
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