Gov. Polis asks criminal justice commission to analyze sentencing reforms

Increased penalties for auto theft singled out in attempt to curb spike

By: - September 16, 2022 2:15 pm

Gov. Jared Polis speaks with legislators, members of law enforcement, cabinet members and community members at the Colorado State Capitol about a public safety legislative package on Feb. 10. 2022. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday penned a letter to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice calling for increased criminal penalties for people convicted of auto theft, as the commission continues crafting reforms around sentencing amid a spike in certain types of crime in Colorado.

“We must continue to ensure that our justice system allows for a wide range of opportunities for rehabilitation and diversion when necessary, but to also ensure that dangerous offenders are not able re-enter communities and put us all at risk,” Polis said in the letter. “Rehabilitation and restoration should continue to be our goals in every case.”

The letter comes following a request from the commission for topics the governor wants to see studied, and Polis said while restructuring sentencing law would be a “difficult endeavor,” he believes the members of the legal system on the commission are “well equipped with the thoughtfulness and consideration needed for such an important task.” Whatever recommendations come from the commission’s studies will be reported back to the governor.

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Polis outlined in the letter eight key points he believes should be considered when it comes to sentencing decisions, including maximizing community safety, providing restoration and healing for victims and ensuring fair and consistent treatment.

Additionally, Polis singled out reforms to auto theft sentencing, asking the commission to examine increased penalties that he said could help prevent repeat offenses.

“The Commission should revisit the criminal classification of auto theft as it relates to the monetary value of a stolen vehicle and instead examine whether to elevate the severity of the crime based on the number of prior offenses, especially targeting prolific auto thieves,” Polis’s letter reads. 

Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said she doesn’t think directing the commission to focus on one specific crime is necessarily the best move.

She also said increasing penalties for auto theft won’t have an impact on reducing the crime, and called it a “knee-jerk” reaction to the increase in auto theft Colorado has seen.

“I think that it’s interesting, in a maybe not helpful way, to call out auto theft specifically — and sort of saying, ‘Well, even if you don’t come up with a recommendation I’m going to do something with the legislature on my own next year,’” Donner said. “It’s interrupting a bigger process by prioritizing that, and we are going to question the lack of understanding behind that request as if increasing penalties for motor vehicle theft is somehow going to reduce auto theft.”

Another priority identified by Polis is improving services for re-entry from incarceration, including health and behavioral health services along with community corrections and supervision services. He also said the commission should evaluate victim services in light of upcoming revisions to the Victim Rights Act.

Polis asked the commission to look at best practices in public safety nationally and use them to create a resource for state, county and local law enforcement agencies to reference. His final ask is for the commission to examine a “juvenile justice vision” as well as the best use of the Youth Offender Services program. 

“I encourage the Commission to work at a deliberate and expeditious pace, especially as it pertains to recommendations for auto theft sentencing changes that will reduce auto theft offenses,” Polis wrote. “The work of the Commission should be thoughtful and considerate, and the Commission should work with flexibility so that all members are able to participate and contribute to the important criminal and juvenile justice reform tasks.”

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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