Colorado editorials: Denver should allow in-person visitation at its jails
October 19, 2017
Denver should allow in-person visitation at its jails
A proposal to allow in-person visits at Denver's jails — forbidden for years — ought to be a no-brainer for a progressive city like ours. In the Office of Independent Monitor's newly filed semiannual report, Nick Mitchell argues for the needed reform and we embrace the logic and the humanity of the request.
As The Denver Post's Noelle Phillips reports, Mitchell is raising the question as the Denver Sheriff Department prepares to finalize a $1.4 million contract with a video visitation provider for the next five years. Denver's jails haven't allowed in-person visits, relying instead on the video technology, since 2005.
Johnny Cash must be rolling in his grave.
"The reason to encourage in-person visitation — particularly between parents and children — are powerful," Mitchell writes in his report. "So before any contract is finalized, we need to talk about whether depriving kids of in-person visits with their parents is consistent with our values as a city."
The sheriff's department isn't keen on the idea. Its spokeswoman, Daelene Mix, told Phillips the city's jails aren't set up for in-person visits, adding that entering a debate on the question is possible in the future.
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Jails provide two primary roles: holding those awaiting trial, who are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and those convicted of lesser offenses. We don't see that video-only visits are appropriate for either population.
Yes, in-person visits invite trouble. Domestic violence has occurred. Visitors can and do succeed in bringing in contraband that makes running a safe jail difficult. But screening out problems is hardly outside the ability of our public safety professionals. Inmates convicted of serious and violent crimes who spend their days in Colorado's prisons are allowed in-person visits, and certainly concerns over violence and contraband exists in those settings as well.
While prison inmates serve much longer sentences than those in jails, some awaiting trial can remain in jail for weeks, and jail sentences also can run weeks or months. Allowing in-person visits could help keep families together, and remind those behind bars of their personal incentives to rehabilitate, possibly reducing recidivism.
Another problem with video visitation is the cost to vulnerable populations. Depending on a jail's policy, visits that occur on site can be free, while visits conducted online or by phone through the video system can cost up to $1.50 a minute — easily a tough expense for poor families. We wonder whether private video providers see in-person visits as a threat to profits. A study conducted by the Prison Policy Institute in 2015 of 500 prisons and jails found that 74 percent of them stopped in-person visits once video visitation was installed.
This is a chance for Denver to lead by setting a better example. Many jails along the Front Range don't allow in-person visits.
And Colorado lawmakers should take note. Texas has approved a requirement that jails offer at least two visits a month. Washington, D.C., is reinstating in-person visits and New Jersey is considering similar requirements.
Allowing inmates in a harsh and alienating jail setting to see and touch a loved one is the right thing to do, and aligns with the intent and soul of our nation's constitutional protections.
The Denver Post, Oct. 17
Empathy, not anger, will move us forward after Las Vegas massacre
On May 12, 2015, The New York Times published a front-page editorial with the headline "The Gun Epidemic," calling for stricter gun controls in the U.S. following the murder of 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California.
On June 16, 2016, The Boston Globe used its front page to call for a ban on assault weapons following murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
And on Oct. 2, 2017, in the hours that followed the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, news organizations began reporting, editorializing and offering commentary on how the nation should address its gun violence epidemic.
Predictable patterns formed each time, as they did following Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora and other instances of mass murder and terrorism.
Impassioned cries for greater checks on assault weapons were countered by equally impassioned arguments for Second Amendment protections. Fingers were pointed at National Rifle Association lobbyists, ineffective lawmakers or anti-gun activists using the worst imaginable tragedies to push their agendas.
Today, with 58 more people dead following the Las Vegas massacre, this much is clear: The national debate on gun violence has failed to make things any better. Not in acts of mass murder, nor in instances of domestic violence, suicide and accidents that fail to make the front pages but still claim thousands of lives each year.
The debate has been, as Shakespeare's Macbeth said of life, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
We live in a nation of debate. The First Amendment guarantees our vital right to express our views freely.
But too often debate is treated like a prize fight. Put on your gloves and pummel the opposition into submission. Fight and win with white-hot rage, or lose and seethe in anger.
Anger is a natural byproduct of any atrocity. But we believe another feeling — empathy — will move the nation forward from Las Vegas in ways that our shared outrage has failed to do in the past.
That's why inside the Viewpoints section of the Oct. 13 edition of The Coloradoan, you'll find bios of each person killed in the Las Vegas shooting. An expanded version compiled by our colleagues across the USA TODAY Network is posted online.
The bios tell stories of working moms loved by the children they supported; of veterans who tried to help others to safety when the shooting started; of people described by others as "the love of my life."
They are their stories. They are our stories.
Reading them hurts, but that shared pain may be the only thing that will move us forward in unity. Instead of focusing on being right about how to decrease gun violence, we should take more time to focus on being human in its aftermath.
Second, since empathy without action is meaningless, let's take one simple step toward a greater understanding of why gun violence is a growing epidemic in America.
Congress and the White House can and should act to enable and fund nonpartisan research of gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC halted such research after the 1997 passage of the so-called "Dickey Amendment" effectively barred the practice and stripped the agency of the $2.6 million it spent on studying gun violence the prior year.
The author of the amendment, former Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, ultimately grew to regret the law he helped push, writing in a Washington Post op-ed after the Aurora movie theater shooting that "firearm injuries will continue to claim far too many lives at home, at school, at work and at the movies until we start asking and answering the hard questions. Scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries."
Here in Fort Collins, where Colorado State University conducted $338.4 million in research in fiscal 2017, we know the value scientific research lends to our understanding of difficult issues. We hope that value will spread.
It's time our federal leaders and we as Americans combined empathy, understanding and action to battle this epidemic of gun violence.
Let's hurt together. And then let's end this.
The Coloradoan, Oct. 13
Governor overturning college myth
Society does not need more teenagers entering college by default, only to pursue career paths for which the market has little demand.
We could use more young people training for practical careers that don't require mountains of student loan debt. Gov. John Hickenlooper would be wise to secure the future of a leading-edge, statewide apprenticeship program during his last year in office.
With fewer than 500 days to serve, the term-limited governor spoke at length last week about his potential legacy. Apprenticeships for young Coloradans topped his list of goals.
Most young adults don't obtain college degrees, Hickenlooper explained to reporter Joey Bunch of ColoradoPolitics.com.
"Yet we've told all these kids that unless you go to college you're a failure, essentially," Hickenlooper said.
College is one means of preparing for life, and for some work it is essential. By no means should we confuse college as the only path to meaningful and lucrative lives and careers.
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Julian Assange, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg are a small sample of modern innovators without college degrees.
Others notable examples have no college credits or high school diplomas. Self-made billionaire and Netscape co-founder James Clark dropped out of school at age 16. Dole Foods CEO and self-made billionaire David Murdock dropped out at 14. Self-made billionaire Richard Branson dropped out at 15.
Far more common are everyday professionals who have successfully pursued high-wage careers with high school diplomas and no costly degrees. They include medical assistants, insurance agents, energy technicians, computer programmers, hearing aid specialists, cardiovascular technicians, respiratory therapists, nurses, paramedics, dental hygienists, web developers, electricians, welders, firefighters, automotive technicians, real estate agents, and more.
Under Hickenlooper's plan, a high school junior could enroll in a program that would lead to a career in a field such as banking, insurance, cybersecurity or advanced manufacturing. Students might work three days a week and take classes two days a week at community colleges. Each would earn a high school diploma and a year of transferable college credit.
"I think this is one of the most important things I've ever worked on and an amazingly powerful solution. I've got 469 days to prove we have a model that's worthy of being a national model," Hickenlooper said.
If he succeeds, it would be a worthy legacy indeed.
While focusing on his laudable apprenticeship vision, Hickenlooper should not lose sight of the state's transportation crisis. He has about 15 months to ensure approval and financing for an array of pressing bridge, highway and tunnel projects.
Governor, do not let "The Gap" between Monument and Castle Rock become a legacy flop that overshadows other accomplishments.
Hickenlooper's legacy has promise. He should choose his battles with discernment, focusing on achievable and substantive objectives. Better transportation and a career-focused education program would enhance how history grades him.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Oct. 17