Voting rights for parolees among several new laws in Colorado

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DENVER — Of the hundreds of bills passed through the Colorado State House this spring, 32 of them became law Monday.

July marks the beginning of the fiscal year for the state.

Several of the laws include reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, including restricting interest charges on restitution, creating a juvenile justice reform committee, and giving voting rights to parolees.

“Enabling parolees to vote is just one step to giving them a stake in their community,” said state Sen. Pete Lee. “If people don’t feel like they belong in a community, they don’t have a stake in the community. They don’t really have a high level of interest in making the community succeed or having themselves succeed in the community.”

Lee represents Manitou Springs and central Colorado Springs. He also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and committee on legal services.

Lee said the goal of this bill is similar to that of other criminal justice reform bills.

“Right now in Colorado, almost half the people that get out of prison go back to prison within three years,” Lee said.

Lee believes restoring the civic duty of voting will inspire a parolee to work towards fulfilling other civil duties, like getting a job.

The bill, 19-1266, allocates $16,960 and provides parolees with information on how to register, but does not automatically enroll them.

Lee sponsored 19-108 to create a juvenile justice reform committee.

“We spend a lot of money on juvenile justice,” Lee said. “We’re not getting terrific results.”

The bill to create the committee was spurred from conferences on juvenile justice in the summer and fall of 2018. Lee said the new committee will study reforms that have worked in other places and look to implement them in Colorado.

Lee said already he sees room for improvement with the severity of punishments in accordance with the crime that was committed.

“Light touch and then utilizing the money we save there to work with kids who are at higher risks of creating harm and higher risk of re-offending,” Lee said.

Lee sees opportunity in punishments other than incarceration, while still holding juveniles to some account.

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