STATEWIDE — Felony filings for drug crimes have increased over the years in not only the 12th Judicial District, but in every district throughout Colorado. According to a report by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition released on Monday, annual drug felony filings more than doubled from 7,424 in 2012 to 15,323 in 2017—a 106 percent increase. Three out of four of the filings were for possession.
CCJRC, a non-profit organization aiming to reduce incarceration, states in their report that the increased filings and arrests disproportionately affect women. While the total number men sentenced in Colorado between 2016 and 2017 increased 9 percent, the number of sentenced women went up 29 percent. Looking at just drug possession sentencing, 24 percent more women were sentence from 2015 to 2016 compared to a 17 percent overall increase.
The 16th Judicial District saw the most growth in drug felony filings at 256 percent when 121 were filed in 2017 versus 34 filed in 2012. Two out of three drug felony filed in Bent, Crowley and Otero counties were for possession.
Meanwhile the San Luis Valley's own 12th Judicial District had the second largest increase. 2012 had 110 drug felony case filings and there were 336 drug felony filings in 2017, which is a 205 percent increase.
When District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen approached the SLV County Commissioners Association for a budget increase last fall, their office saw a total of 765 felonies filed as of Aug. 31, 2017.
Of the 336 filings, 80 percent were for possessing or sharing drugs. On the other hand 9 percent were for low-level distribution, 7 percent were for mid-level distribution, and 4 percent were for high-level distribution.
Alamosa's new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program was only notified about funding in January and doesn't start until April, but it aims to curb low-level sentencing such as possession by referring offenders to the Center for Restorative Programs instead of placing them in jail.
The program will only exist in Alamosa County at the start, but the goal is to make it available throughout the San Luis Valley within three years.
11th Judicial District, made up of Chaffee, Custer, Freemont and Park counties just north of the Valley, had the third highest increase at 180 percent. In 2017 the district saw 451 filings while there were 161 in 2012.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 5th Judicial District, which encompasses Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties, had only a 1 percent drug felony filing increase over five years. In 2017 they had 197 filings, up significantly from 2014's 135, but only one more than 2012's 196 filings.
Colorado's Department of Corrections is looking for more prison beds to handle the rise in sentencing. The DOC, which initially asked the Colorado General Assembly for $922 million, has requested additional funding to reopen closed prisons. According to the report it would cost $18.8 million to reopen Colorado State Penitentiary II in Cañon City and $12.3 million for Huerfano County Correctional Facility.
The Joint Budget Committee is scheduled to meet with the DOC on Wednesday to set funding figures before the budget is passed in May.