The uppercase depiction of longstanding American criminal law policies imbues them with a sense of fervor and unquestioned harshness. The War on Crime. Its attendant War on Drugs.
Those notably tagged battles have seemingly been a near-crusade in states across the country, including Colorado, for decades now. Their central tenet stresses a tough-on-crime approach spotlighted by a regulatory preference for long prison sentences as default outcomes, in lieu of often available and sensible alternatives.
Is the American public really on board with that?
That is a question pointedly asked by Denise Maes, a director with the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union. Maes addressed criminal policy realities and projections in a recent radio interview in which she strongly endorsed reforms she says are urgently needed.
One point prominently made by Maes echoes that of many other justice-system commentators. To wit: The above-cited Wars are still being waged generations after they were spawned, despite increased criticisms that are being levied against them. An ultra hard-core stance is still taken in drug cases, even matters involving nonviolent first-time offenders convicted on arguably minor offenses.
Maes questions whether the general public is even aware of that, or has simply grown accustomed over time to seeing harsh outcomes routinely doled out.
Her organization would like to see a wider understanding of the projected reality that Colorado’s prison population is expected to spike be nearly 40% within a few years. Maes says that state taxpayers could likely realize about $675 million in savings over that time by simply following through on a few logical reform efforts.
One of those is a material rethinking of the lock-them-up philosophy that sends legions of low-level drug offenders to prison for years. Alternative outcomes – for example, drug courts and/or treatment facilities – make far more sense.
“We have a public health crisis on our hands, not a criminal justice crisis,” says Maes.
The bottom-line concern expressed in Maes’ thinking and the reflections of legions of other reform-minded commentators is that far too many people who don’t need to be going to prison are ending up there, and for illogically long periods.
And that benefits no one.