A form of community corrections principles were practiced as early as 1957 when, Wayne K. Patterson, the warden for the state penal system, persuaded the legislature to use inmates from the reformatory to build small parks adjacent to highways around the state.
The term "community corrections" is one that is often confusing. In the broadest sense, it is the supervision or treatment of criminal offenders in non-secure settings. In Colorado and other states with Community Corrections Acts, the term refers to specific programs that are based and operated in local communities. Community based corrections programs broaden the range of criminal sanctions available to the justice system. They manage offender populations that would otherwise be placed in secure facilities.
The Colorado Legislature officially initiated Community Corrections in Colorado in 1974 with the enactment of the first "Community Corrections Act", Senate Bill 55. The legislation was passed after Sen. Ralph Cole led a group of local officials and state lawmakers on a tour of similar community programs in Iowa.
Senator Cole and others discovered that many communities would be willing to "correct" their own offenders. Senator Cole, having run prison camps during the Second World War, knew what it was like to work with offenders. Senator Cole wanted communities to be safe but involved in the rehabilitation of offenders. Senator Cole devised a plan whereby communities would be able to reject any offenders they would not want in the community. In addition, programs could reject offenders if they felt they could not manage them.. This two-fold protection for the community is unique within the United States. In most states, community offenders are placed in the community with or without community support.
The strength of Colorado Community Corrections, as envisioned by Senator Cole, was his emphasis on community control. Furthermore, he knew that most offenders do return to our communities eventually. He saw community corrections as a way to reintegrate these offenders without simply dumping them on our streets. By doing so, he knew that our communities would be safer places to live. For him, ignorance was not bliss. Offenders hiding in apartments and unknown to neighbors are much more dangerous than those who are known in our communities and supervised.
Secrets are offender's friends. Knowing who they are and where they are forces accountability of offenders. Senator Cole's vision is alive and well today. With community corrections having tripled in the past 20 years, communities are becoming better and better at knowing which offenders they can manage and which offenders cannot be managed at the local level.
Local community corrections boards and programs were authorized by the 1974 act, but no funds for services were appropriated that year. Larimer County was the first jurisdiction to establish a community corrections board and used federal grant funds to begin program activities.
A significant provision in the community corrections model in Colorado is the level of local control. Boards appointed by locally elected officials have the authority to screen and reject any offender referrals to programs in their communities. These boards also contract with private service providers or county providers, screen offenders for placement and oversee local programs. It was recognized that without a strong level of local support for programs, it would be difficult for the state to sustain locally based services.
In 1976, Senate Bill 4 encouraged judicial districts to divert adjudicated non-violent offenders away from prison and into local residential or non-residential programs. Limited funding ($300,000) was provided for purchase of services. These funds went to programs in Larimer, Boulder, Denver, Mesa, El Paso, and Pueblo counties that had previously operated on federal grants or served county correctional agencies. As state appropriations increased over the next few years, new programs were formed in Adams, Jefferson, La Plata and Denver counties.
An amendment to the Community Corrections Act in 1979 authorized local community boards to screen and place inmates in local programs prior to parole release. This change defined the offender populations that have been supervised in community programs during the last eleven years.
The offender populations served by Community Corrections fall into two primary groups. The first group is placed directly in community programs by judges at the time of conviction. Usually such placement is made instead of a prison sentence and is referred to as "Diversion." Currently, over 2400 felons are supervised in community programs in the status.
The second group supervised in community programs is offenders who have served time in prison, then are placed in a community program prior to their release to parole or as a condition of parole. This group is referred to as "Transition" as services are provided to assist in their reintegration to local communities. Over 1500 "Transition" offenders are in community programs today.
The appropriations for Community Corrections have seen gradual increases since the program started in 1974. From the first appropriations mentioned previously, funding increased to $1.7 million in FY 1979-80. Five years later $5.8 million was appropriated and funding for fiscal year 2012-2013 is $56 million.
In the early years, a problem that plagued the program was a lack of administrative stability. As is true today, both the state and local government shared oversight of the program. But, during the first decade of the program, state administration bounced between or was shared by the Department of Corrections and the Judicial Department before being placed under the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) in the Department of Public Safety in 1986. These administrative shifts led to inconsistencies in state direction and difficulties in resolving the different state/local interests that emerged in joint oversight of the program.
To stabilize the administration of the program after its transfer to DCJ, Governor Lamm created the first Community Correcting Advisory Council in 1986. Governor Romer appointed a second Council in 1988 with membership representing state and local interests associated with the program. Governor Ritter approved the latest Advisory Council in June 2007. While funding comes from the state and referrals to programs come from state criminal justice agencies, the programs are based in local communities and the enabling legislation reflects the importance of local support and control. Local boards have the authority to accept or reject referrals to programs and decide which programs will exist in their communities. The Community Corrections program is dependent on coordination of these boards with the state administrative agency, as well as support of the legislature, local government, criminal justice agencies and the local programs if it is to effectively serve the state.