STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
COMMITTEE ON JOINT JUDICIARY
|Time:||01:32 PM to 04:08 PM|
|This Meeting was called to order by|
|This Report was prepared by|
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
|Bills Addressed: ||Action Taken:|
|Briefing from the Department of Corrections|
Briefing from the Judicial Branch
Briefing from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security
01:33 PM -- Briefing from the Department of Corrections
Ari Zavaras, Executive Director of the Department of Corrections (DOC), provided the committee with an overview of the department. He discussed the difficult economic times and how that impacts DOC. He explained the budget reduction plan for the department. In the last economic downturn, he stated that DOC had to eliminate programs and reduce staff. He indicated that in recent years most of those positions have been restored, but not all. Mr. Zavaras discussed measures to ensure public safety. The current recidivism rate is over 50 percent which, according to Mr. Zavaras, is related to the fact that DOC only has the funding to perform the core function of public safety. Mr. Zavaras discussed recidivism efforts as integral to the mission of the department. He also discussed the importance of in-prison treatment for offenders who use drugs. He explained that recidivism reduction leads to lower costs for the department in the long run.
Mr. Zavaras discussed the growing parole population and the services for parolees that help to support offenders as they transition into the community. He noted that as the parole population increases, it becomes difficult to provide the services with the funding that they have. He stated that their budget will be reduced by approximately $50 million and they will be reorganizing and decommissioning two of their prisons. They also will be selling a ranch in Chaffee County for additional funds. He discussed the increase in the per diem for the private prison providers; however, it has been proposed that these rates will be decreased again. Mr. Zavaras noted that the private providers are facing similar economic problems with the downturn. Mr. Zavaras emphasized the difficulty of cutting the budget while still ensuring public safety. He discussed the importance of promoting change in the behavior of inmates as the key to reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety.
Mr. Zavaras discussed other methods for changing inmate behavior, including ways to use visitation policies. He related that pre-release programs have been instituted. He stated that career development for offenders is another important tool for preventing recidivism. He discussed the growth rate for the prison population and noted that the rate is decreasing in recent years. Mr. Zavaras talked about the difficulty in measuring prevention efforts. Mr. Zavaras noted that the Legislative Council Staff prison population projections do show an increase in the population. He explained that the projected growth rate for the prison population is 2.7 percent and the growth rate for the population on parole is 5.3 percent. He emphasized the importance of prison education programs in reducing recidivism. He explained the partnerships that DOC has with both the community college system and with the Department of Labor to help offenders find employment.
Mr. Zavaras highlighted the department's 100 percent accreditation rating which means that 100 percent of the department has passed a set of national standards. He noted that Colorado is one of 11 states to receive this designation. Mr. Zavaras discussed the upcoming challenges concerning the budget. He explained that programs that were cut in the last downturn have not been restored. He discussed the issue of offender assaults and staff use of force. Mr. Zavaras also noted the increase in food costs and medical services. He indicated the difficulties concerning offenders with mental illness, including those offenders on parole. He concluded by saying that public safety will always remain their top priority.
Representative Court asked about where the inmates will go with the closing of the facilities. She also asked about why violence within the system has increased and why individuals with mental illness are entering the prison system. Mr. Zavaras explained that the increased incidence of inmates with mental illness began many years ago when community mental health centers were shut down. As these individuals act out, they enter county jails or state prisons. As for the individuals at the facilities that are closing down, he stated that they will be moved to other existing state facilities or to a private prison within the state. Mr. Zavaras also noted that, as there is increased violence in the community, violence also increases in the prisons. He explained that in particular gang violence is a problem. Senator Carroll asked about decision to close public facilities rather than moving offenders out of private facilities and what is the ratio of public to private prisons. Mr. Zavaras noted that the reason for closing the state facility is because of fiscal reasons. He also indicated that this closure will not increase the percentage of offenders at private prisons. He stated that if they were to take the prisoners out of the private facility, those would be filled with out of state prisoners or federal prisoners. He also noted that one of the facilities that is closing is an expensive facility to operate and the other facility is fairly small and also expensive to operate. Senator Carroll asked about access to treatment for offenders with substance abuse problems and mental illness.
Senator Lundberg asked about faith-based programs as a means of helping to reduce recidivism. Senator Newell asked about helping individuals who are laid off as a result of these closures and helping them to transition into new jobs. Mr. Zavaras stated that he did not think that they would have to have layoffs, but rather staff will be able to transfer to other facilities. Senator Hudak asked about the increase in lockdowns and violence against staff. She asked if this can be attributed to double bunking. Mr. Zavaras indicated that one issue is the fact that they do not have the high security beds that they need. Senator Newell asked about sentencing reform. Mr. Zavaras noted that he is not opposed to sentencing reform, but the department does not usually get involved in those conversations because their mission is public safety. Representative Pace asked about the ranch in Chaffee County that the department plans to sell. Senator King asked about the percentage of inmates who are illegal aliens. Mr. Zavaras noted that there are 1500 foreign-born inmates, but he does not know how many are illegal. He explained that DOC is working with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are coming to the prisons and determining which inmates are illegal and have deportation orders. Representative McCann asked about the cuts to the therapeutic offerings. Representative Ryden asked about the possibility of Guantanamo prisoners coming to Colorado. Mr. Zavaras explained that these prisoners would not be coming to the state system, but instead they would essentially be military prisoners who might be housed in military facilities or in a federal facility.
Representative Levy asked about the sex offender treatment program. Mr. Zavaras asked Joan Shoemaker, representing the DOC, to come to the table to discuss this issue. Ms. Shoemaker discussed changes made to staffing for this program. She also noted that more offenders have been released to the community. Ms. Shoemaker discussed the problem of availability of treatment slots.
02:51 PM -- Briefing from the Judicial Branch
Jerry Marroney, State Court Administrator, explained the handouts that he distributed to the committee (Attachments A, B, and C) and introduced the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Chief Justice Mullarkey discussed the function of the court. She explained that the district courts handle felonies, but also half of the filings in district courts have to do with family issues. She discussed the strong accountability measures of the court. Mr. Marroney discussed the role of the state judicial branch. He provided an overview of the staff and roles of the Judicial Branch. He explained that the Judicial Branch consists of the Judicial Department, the Public Defender, and the Alternate Defense Counsel. He discussed the information contained in the powerpoint overview (Attachment A). Mr. Marroney indicated that 750,000 court cases are filed each year. Currently, civil cases make up the majority of the filings. For criminal cases, he noted that the court sees 200,000 traffic cases, 75,000 misdemeanor cases, and 40,000 felony cases each year. He discussed the importance of treatment courts in trying to reduce recidivism.
(Attachment C is a DVD and can be viewed at Archives)
Mr. Marroney discussed the workload for the probation department. He explained that probation is the largest corrections agency and resides within the Judicial Branch. He stated that 63,000 people are placed on probation each year. He also noted the importance of restorative justice for probation. Mr. Marroney provided an overview of the resources used by probation as compared with the number of probation cases. He also discussed the intensive treatment programs conducted by probation which keeps offenders out of the prisons. He discussed a survey that they have been conducting to see what the public thinks of the court. From this survey, they found that people are interested in seeing increased hours for the courthouse, being able to complete their business in less time, and a more useful web site. Mr. Marroney explained that the Judicial Branch is 4 percent of the state budget.
Representative McCann asked about e-filing and whether that would bring in revenue. Chief Justice Mullarkey explained that the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) has asked them to study this possibility. Mr. Marroney noted that the JBC just approved a supplemental to undertake this and the estimate is that Judicial might bring in $14 million from bringing e-filing in house. Representative Gardner noted his concerns with this initiative. He believes that the e-filing system in this state has been cutting edge and he hopes that the system will continue to work after the transition. Representative Gardner discussed the recent increase in the filing fees. Mr. Marroney noted that they are in the middle for states in terms of fees, so much of the feedback has been that the fees are not as high as in other states. Justice Mullarkey noted that the changes in e-filing are three to four years away. Senator Newell asked about successes from the mediation services and the mental health courts.
Representative Miklosi asked about training for judges who handle family law cases. He indicated that individuals sometimes complain about the knowledge of the judges who handle family matters. Mr. Marroney discussed some difficulties concerning family law. Representative Miklosi asked about what kind of partnerships the Judicial Branch engages in without external nonprofit groups. Chief Justice Mullarkey discussed several areas where outreach is conducted. Senator Renfroe asked about a computer initiative with the Weld County District Attorney's Office that may save money. Mr. Marroney explained that the initiative is called e-citation. Representative Levy asked about the costs of probation and how they handle probationers who can't pay for probation. Representative Levy also asked about the costs of transcripts and how the court reporters get paid. Mr. Marroney discussed the changes that were made in costs for transcripts in previous years. He also explained that court reporters pay for all of their equipment and much of the transcript work cannot be done during the workday.
03:45 PM -- Briefing from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security
General Mason Whitney, Director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, briefed the committee on the duties of his office. He provided the committee with a handout (Attachment D). He discussed the mission of the Office of Homeland Security which covers terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Therefore, he noted that the office partners with many state agencies. In 2002, General Whitney explained that Colorado began developing a homeland security system, but the system was quite fractured and not coordinated. In August 2007, the governor asked General Whitney to become the state homeland security coordinator. By March 2008, the office had completed a new homeland security strategy which was signed by the governor. General Whitney also discussed the program adjustments made to the federal homeland security grants that the state receives.
General Whitney explained that the Department of Local Affairs was the original agency responsible for administering homeland security and the Department of Public Safety was responsible for the homeland security advisors. He discussed the Colorado Information and Analysis Center (CAIC) which was also in the Department of Public Safety. Today, according to General Whitney, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security administers all of the federal grants and the Department of Public Safety still maintains the CAIC. General Whitney provided an overview of the staffing structure today. He explained their risk management structure which assesses threats and determines the vulnerabilities. General Whitney discussed the office priorities which are to complete phase two of the state homeland security strategy, ensure timely and quality grant applications, ensure management of existing grant programs, and implement the new grant monitoring program. He discussed the budget for the office and the federal funding that they receive. General Whitney indicated that the state will receive approximately $21 million in federal grants in 2009.
General Whitney explained the performance measures used by the office. He noted that the office also is audited by both the state and federal government. According to General Whitney, their biggest challenge is complacency because events do not happen all the time. He explained that they need to cultivate a culture of preparedness.