Mar 042010
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

A Colorado legislator and criminal justice officials agreed that a bill introduced last week that would shorten prison time for people involved in substance abuse crimes will better use public safety dollars and divert funding from incarceration to rehabilitation.

The bill will benefit the students who meet with CSU’s Student Legal Services (SLS) everyday about how to approach drug charges, some of whom have served time for possession, said Kathleen Harward, SLS director.

“Given that students may be found with small amounts of pot, it shifts our focus from looking only for ways to punish such individuals harshly,” said Justice Prabha Unnithan, the director of Center for the Study of Crime in an e-mail to the Collegian.

Under the current system, if an individual is caught with more than eight ounces of marijuana, it is considered a felony, between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor and less than one is a petty offense. If the bill becomes law, a person must possess 12 ounces or more to commit a felony. The possession of highly potent drugs, such as cocaine and heroine, is considered a class four felony that results in up to six years of prison time. But the proposed law would change the charges to a class six felony with only 18 months in prison.

Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, said the reduction of prison time would set money aside to establish more rehabilitation centers for offenders. Colorado currently has two in-house treatment centers for males and one for females, Waller said, but both have long wait lists.

“We need this in-patient treatment for two or three years and we just don’t have that (in Colorado),” he said, adding that this legislation only applies to the possession of illegal substances and does not alter distribution charges.

Prison space, Unnithan said, is valuable and limited and the change of policy will alleviate some of the pressure on state correctional institutions.

The measure is supported by people from “both sides of the aisle,” Waller said, adding that he sees no reason why it won’t be put into law –– Harward agreed.

“(The bill gives) more public safety bang for our buck,” Waller said.

The bill is likely to be discussed in the State House next week, Waller said.

_Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at _

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