Colorado Editorials: Public safety and the sex offender registry |

Colorado Editorials: Public safety and the sex offender registry

The sex offender registry is an important public safety tool

It’d be a shame if Colorado is forced to stop tracking the home addresses of sex offenders because a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the registry law violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment.

Colorado’s sex offender registry, like those in every other state, presents critical public information in a usable format that can make communities safer. We hope Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman prevails in her appeal of the ruling.

Colorado requires those convicted of certain sex offenses, excluding juveniles or misdemeanor convictions, to register their current home address with the state.

That information, coupled with public court records of convictions, creates an online registry that allows people to search geographical areas for sex offenders living nearby and learn about their crimes.

We fail to see how that equates to cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the registry can make the lives of those on the registry extremely difficult when coupled with misguided laws at the local level that govern where those on the registry can live and with overly aggressive community members who use the information in a punitive way.

The collision of the registry with those laws too often leads to inability of convicted sex offenders to find work or housing, and that’s counterproductive to the goal of having offenders get the treatment they need and rejoin society as productive members.

But it’s not the state law that’s creating those difficulties or making lifetime registration cruel and unusual. Some local governments, like Englewood, have implemented incredibly strict limitations on where sex offenders can live, essentially limiting the area of the city where they can reside to a very small percentage of the city’s housing stock.

A ruling in 2013, which was thrown out for complicated legal reasons, struck down the Englewood laws temporarily. The judge ruled, “Few sex offenders are incarcerated for life, most will at some point return to the community, and there must be a place for them to live.”

We agree. Municipalities must revisit their punitive rules to make them reasonable and workable while still ensuring public safety.

But those misguided laws could exist even without a statewide registry.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch found in his ruling this month, however, that the statewide registry itself poses a “serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public.”

Matsch wrote that punishment “not by the state, but by fellow citizens” is the equivalent of public shaming and banishment, which he said are considered cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment.

We consider the registry to be important public information provided in a useful and informative manner. Public reaction to that information is beyond the contemplation of the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act.

An important public safety tool would be lost should the state lose its ability to compile information about where sex offenders live after they are released from prison.

But also, a number of sex offenders would find themselves with incredibly light sentences, as judges across the state have considered the ramifications of lifetime registration as a part of their sentences.

Words cannot express the injustice of a man like Austin James Wilkerson — convicted of sexually assaulting a helpless victim at the University of Colorado — walking free after 367 days in jail on work release without having to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The Denver Post, Sept. 27

Paving the path forward on mental health

The next time a Fort Collins police officer is called to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis, his backup might not carry a badge or a gun.

Fort Collins Police Services and SummitStone Health Partners this month will begin pairing officers trained in community policing with experts trained in de-escalating mental health crises. The end goal of the partnership: Connecting people in crisis with the services they need instead of connecting them with the jail and criminal justice system.

Co-responder partnerships aren’t new in Colorado. The Loveland Police Department and SummitStone have had a program in place for a couple years, and various Denver-area police departments and health providers also partner. Experts, like SummitStone CEO Michael Allen, say the programs lead to reduced use of officer force as trained behavioral health experts help diffuse situations that might otherwise end in an arrest.

As Allen put it, co-responders use “verbal judo” to diffuse situations that might otherwise end in an officer’s use of actual judo. Our local police officers are among the best of us in understanding and responding to the human condition, but the extra layer of support can be a boon for positive outcomes in crisis situations.

At a time when assaults on officers are up, and as Larimer County leaders continue with how best to address a rising tide of mental health and substance abuse issues, that sounds like a win-win to us.

That’s why, as SummitStone works to expand its co-responder programs, the Coloradoan Editorial Board applauds Loveland and Fort Collins police leadership for their vision and encourages other area law-enforcement agencies to follow suit.

SummitStone and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office are in talks about the program, and we hope those discussions will lead to another partnership that strengthens our community safety net for those in crisis.

Beyond the potential for better outcomes for officers and those in crisis, we’re encouraged by how Northern Colorado police are working to integrate mental health resources into their daily routines.

Given last year’s failure of a tax measure that would build and support the operations of the first public mental health and detox facility in Larimer County, and the stigma that surrounds seeking the services such a facility would provide, perhaps that integration should be taken a step further.

Allen said SummitStone offers service in eight buildings while also offering behavioral health care at 25 other locations. The goal is to integrate behavioral health services into locations where people are already receiving primary care. In essence, any observer can’t differentiate whether a patient exiting a facility received care for tendinitis or suicidal thoughts.

As a board, each of us could recall knowing about the places in our home towns where people went for mental health help, and being aware of — and sometimes participating in — the derision directed at people who sought out help.

That mentality needs to stop, and every Northern Colorado resident has a part to play in elevating the discussion of the important place these services play in our community’s well-being.

But the built environment has a role to play, too. That’s why, if Larimer County is going to pursue another go at tax funding for a behavioral health facility, county leaders would be well served to get specific on how such a facility would be integrated to the existing continuum of care.

The county needs the services a facility provides, but it doesn’t need the “otherness” of a stand-alone building.

We applaud the path Fort Collins and Loveland’s police departments are taking to integrate mental health services into their daily duties. As the conversation continues about how best to provide expanded mental health and detox services in Larimer County, government, civil and health care leaders would be wise to follow their lead.

The Coloradoan, Sept. 27

Locking down new jobs

The primary purpose of government isn’t, nor should it be, to provide people with jobs. Having said that, there are situations when a new government program or facility can provide an economic boost to an area that desperately needs one.

That may prove to be the case as Colorado state officials decide what to do to relieve prison overcrowding. Last week, the Joint Budget Committee approved a request from the Colorado Department of Corrections to spend $10.6 million to lease a private prison and hire additional staff help to operate it.

The location of that prison hasn’t yet been decided. There’s a chance the DOC might decide to send some inmates to private prisons in Crowley or Bent counties. Another option would be reopening a private prison in Kit Carson County.

However, if the state decides that reopening a prison is the best option, here’s hoping that it will be the Huerfano County Correctional Facility in Walsenburg. That’s a part of the state that could really use the influx of jobs.

Huerfano County, with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, is one of the state’s most economically distressed communities. The unemployment rate is deceptive because it only takes into account people who are actively looking for work, while disregarding those who have given up hope of finding a job.

The funding approved by the JBC would be enough to cover 70 new full-time workers. That wouldn’t completely patch over the hole left in the local economy when the 180-employee prison closed in 2010, but it would be a help.

The Pueblo Chieftain, Sept. 26

Counting on Congress to pursue bipartisan efforts to fix health care problems

If your head is spinning from the news — natural disasters, security threats and the most recent GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — you are not alone.

There is a dizzying amount of high-stakes activity going on around the world — and in Congress.

The most recent effort to repeal the ACA has our attention because of the very real consequences it has for some of the most vulnerable Americans — children, the poor, the elderly and disabled.

Last week, the Colorado Health Institute was in Durango to announce the results of its Colorado Health Access Survey that every other year since 2009 has tracked Coloradan’s health insurance coverage, access to care, use of and satisfaction with health care services.

They were quick to point out a success — that because of the ACA, and for the first time ever, more than 5 million Coloradans (93.5 percent) have health insurance, including 97 percent of children from infancy to 18 — as well as some persistent challenges. Notably, that plans individuals buy on their own (8 percent of Coloradans) next year are expected to rise in cost by 27 percent.

Though it’s not looking like it has enough votes, should the Graham-Cassidy bill pass, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the stakes will get even higher for more than 80 million Americans and have substantial implications for states’ ability to finance health insurance coverage. It would hit states that expanded Medicaid, such as Colorado, the hardest.

Although the Congressional Budget Office will not have a full estimate of its impact before Sept. 30, when reconciliation rules to pass a bill expire, Republicans are forging ahead without full knowledge of its impact. What is getting lost in the frenzy is the 3 percent of Colorado kids (161,733 of them infant to 18) without insurance, and the 1.1 percent (75,254 statewide) with CHP+.

Amid the rush to repeal the ACA, there has been little to no conversation about its effect on kids (nearly half of whom make up the Medicaid rolls), or the CHP+ program that nationally covers 8 million low-income children and pregnant women and is set to expire on Saturday if bipartisan legislation to extend it is not advanced.

Locally, there are 570 children in Montezuma County enrolled in CHP+, and 971 kids enrolled in La Plata County. The reality is that with the heightened partisanship of this latest ACA repeal effort, an extension is unlikely, and especially devastating since Congress has funded the federal share every year of its 20-year history.

CHP+ covers families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private health insurance. Because having health insurance coverage is the main predictor of an individual’s ability to access care, and staying healthy, fundamental to a child’s success in school, that is the wrong direction for us to be heading.

We are counting on Congress to come to its senses, slow down and pursue bipartisan efforts to fix very real problems with our health care system, starting with renewing the CHP+ program before it expires. Penalizing the most vulnerable among us is not the way.

The Cortez Journal, Sept. 25

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