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A Spotlight on Colorado’s Reform Efforts: A sneak peek into our upcoming State Trends Report

Posted in 2013, Across the Country Tuesday, 08 October 2013

During the second week of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) CFYJ will take a look back at the reform efforts that improve the lives of youth by decreasing the chances that they would come into contact with the adult criminal court.  Here at CFYJ our mission is just that, and we partner with state organizations, advocates, youth and families to launch and win state legislative campaigns for youth justice.

In the years at CFYJ, I have had the pleasure of working with many states to organize campaigns for juvenile justice reform to remove youth from adult court.  The work has been tedious, exciting, rewarding and challenging.  It is all worth it because we know from the research that youth in adult court are 34% more likely to recidivate at higher rates than those retained in the juvenile court.  At the Campaign for Youth Justice we have worked diligently to create our campaign model to be successful in states where there is interest in building grassroots campaigns.  We provide a myriad of technical assistance options to our partners such as, campaign planning, policy assistance, coalition building support, media assistance and training, hearing preparation, policy and political analysis.  We know that the research supports our mission and we believe after 8 years of state based campaign work that the trends emerging are not by accident. On October 10th, we will be releasing our latest State Trends report which examines the states who have in the past several years changed state policies to remove youth from the adult court.

Colorado is no stranger to these successes.  In 1993, I was living in Colorado when the state expanded their laws to prosecute youth more harshly.  It happened during a special legislative session to address a crime wave.  This effort was led by then District Attorney Bill Ritter.  Fifteen years later, in 2008 when the legislature passed a significant direct file reform bill, it was vetoed by Governor Ritter. It was tragic, but we were hopeful that with a new Governor coming into office we could do it again. 

In 2011, with families and youth, good data, media, an engaged coalition, and a skilled organizer we were ready to engage in a major campaign to end direct file.  Building community support, strong spokespeople and legislative champions were all priorities.  Our role in the campaign was to provide policy and media support as well as support the organizer of the Colorado campaign housed at the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition.  There were two major pieces of legislation introduced, House Bill 1139, a jail removal bill and House Bill 1271, the direct file reform bill.  HB 1139 was passed and signed into law in March 2012 helping to drive the energy needed to pass HB 1271.  The bill was hotly contested and debated.  On April 20, 2012 Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 1271 into law.  Victory!

Having been involved with this effort since 2009, I believe that the strong organizing effort with communities, youth and families, in addition to good data, incredible legislative champions and influential coalition members made this Colorado campaign a success. I was happy to have Colorado lead these efforts and I encourage other states to consider doing the same.  If you are a state that is considering doing a reform campaign I urge you to contact us.  We are happy to help!

To continue following other state reforms during the month of October, continue to visit CFYJ's blog and to engage in our social media campaign check us out on Facebook and Twitter using #statetrends #youthjustice #YJAM

In solidarity,

Jessica