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Colorado Lawmakers Want Overhaul Sentencing For Drug Offenses

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4)- Those who do drugs now may be in their own category according to Colorado law. State lawmakers want to overhaul how people are sentenced in the state for drug offenses.

Lawmakers are hoping to stop the revolving door for drug offenses at jails and prisons.

The bill is 75 pages long and is four years in the making. It treats drug crimes differently than any other crime.

The focus of the bill is to build incentives into the law that get drug users into treatment instead of behind bars.

“When you talk about drug offenses you have to realize addiction is a powerful behavioral health issue that is driving a lot of what we consider to be criminal conduct,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat representing Denver.

Steadman is the lead sponsor of the bill that would create an entirely new sentencing scheme specific to drug crimes. The bill has the support of Democrats and Republicans, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

“It is for all intensive purposes a complete paradigm shift on how we deal with drugs as opposed to all other crimes in criminal code,” said Colorado District Attorneys Council spokesman Tom Raynes. “To say if drugs are really your problem and you’re not crossing over into other crimes than maybe we should do something different with you and we’re willing to try it.”

Raynes said while the bill is tough on drug dealers it gives judges more flexibility with users and emphasizes treatment over incarceration with incentives to get clean.

“For people that do, they’re looking at the prospect of not having a felony on their record, but upon successful completion of probation and drug treatment actually having a misdemeanor offense entered on their record,” said Steadman.

The goal is to address the core problem– addiction.

“If we always view treatment as somehow coddling prisoners we are not enhancing public safety because what you want for these people is not to continue using drugs,” said Colorado Defense Bar spokeswoman Maureen Cain.

“There are some people who will argue against these reforms saying that they are soft on crime. But I think what’s going on here is we’re being smart on crime,” said Steadman. “We’re looking at evidence of proven practices that provide incentives to complete treatment and get their lives back in order and not be repeat customers in the criminal justice system.”

The legislation also includes a mandate that public safety tracks the impact of the new sentencing on recidivism.

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