During the last legislative session, Colorado Catholic Conference pushed several bills of legislation that seek to promote the values of mercy and forgiveness in the criminal justice system.
Senate Bills 180 and 181 deal with the dignity of criminals, while House Bills 1386 and 1388 recognize the dignity of workers. Each of the bills is being supported by CCC because they highlight the relationship between justice and mercy that Pope Francis called people to reflect upon during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“[Justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love,” the Holy Father wrote in the papal document Misericordiae Vultus.
Jenny Kraska, executive director of CCC, said they made good gains in criminal justice reform during this legislative session.
“It was great to be able to work on something that will be helpful in the juvenile justice and restorative justice realm in Colorado,” Kraska said.
The CCC said that the following bills “recognize the need for a just punishment, but also offer a dimension of hope, rehabilitation and mercy.”
Senate Bill 180
Senate Bill 180 is a bipartisan bill that aims to form a specialized program with the Colorado Department of Corrections that would determine whether individuals convicted of crimes at a juvenile age continue to pose a threat to the community when they are older.
According the the text of the bill, “the offender serving a sentence for a felony committed while the offender was a juvenile may apply for placement in the program if he or she has served 20 calendar years of his or her sentence and has not been released on parole.”
The bill would provide to such eligible individuals the opportunity to demonstrate that they no longer pose a threat to society, and could be granted early parole if they complete the program successfully.
As of the end of the legislative session on May 11, Senate Bill 180 has passed.
Senate Bill 181
Senate Bill 181 takes a page from the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama, during which the United States Supreme Court ruled that imposing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile is a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited per the eight amendment to the United States Constitution.
This bill allows Colorado district courts the opportunity to consider re-sentencing juvenile offenders in Colorado who were sentenced to a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole as a youth under the age of 18.
Senate Bill 180 and 181 were companion bills, Kraska said. Senate Bill 181 also passed as of the end of the session.
House Bill 1386
House Bill 1386 was a bill that was slated to die during the session, but last-minute lobbying efforts on the part of Kraska and CCC resulted in it passing.
According to the text of the bill, “[House Bill 1386] directs the Office of Health Equity in the Department of Public Health and Environment to administer a necessary document program.” Necessary documents are defined by the bill as a social security card, driver’s license, identification card, birth, death or marriage certificates, or any document required in order to be issued one of these documents,
This bill addresses those Colorado citizens who have difficulty obtaining identification documents, namely those who are victims of domestic violence, impacted by a natural disaster, low-income, disabled, homeless or elderly.
The bill will essentially set up a fund within the state that gives to various charities, which in turn will allow for these charities to help people in these situations obtain proper ID documents. This will make it easier for them to find housing, enroll in school and ultimately, do the day-to-day necessities that require an ID to fulfill.
House Bill 1388
House Bill 1388 sought to recognize the dignity of workers by making it so offenders who have paid their society aren’t immediately disqualified from a job based on their criminal history.
The CCC said that “some employers disqualify applicants based on a job application’s criminal history inquiry with our asking further questions about reform, capability or fitness.” House Bill 1388 would provide greater protection for job applicants with a criminal history as they seek to become a truly rehabilitated, productive member of society.
Though the CCC pushed for it to pass, House Bill 1388 died in the Senate.
To learn more about legislation that promotes Catholic values, visit Colorado Catholic Conference’s website.