ACLU Launches Bring Our Neighbors Home Campaign Focusing on Criminal Justice Reform

The ACLU of Colorado has launched a new campaign to highlight the need for significant criminal justice reform. The Bring Our Neighbors Home campaign highlights the large number who people who find themselves in jail, before they’ve been found guilty of a crime, because they can’t pay what are often small bonds. KGNU’s Maeve Conran spoke with ACLU Senior Staff Attorney, Rebecca Wallace, about the campaign.

Listen to the interview below:

The campaign is a collaboration with the Colorado Freedom Fund and builds on the work done in the 2019 legislative session when laws were passed that eliminated certain cash bonds.

However, when two people with identical criminal histories are charged with the same crime, currently only those who can pay the bond can avoid jail time. According to Wallace, not being able to pay can have consequences far beyond what many realize.

“People who are locked behind bars, even for short jail stays, have the very real risk and often do lose custody of their children, lose their job. For people who are in tenuous housing circumstances, they often lose their ability to return to a home. And maybe more importantly, we also know that all of the data tells us that people who are locked behind bars pretrial are much more likely to be convicted, to be sentenced to jail and to have a longer jail sentence.”

The Colorado ACLU says many stakeholders across the criminal legal system agree the current pretrial system is fundamentally unfair and in a way, makes poverty a crime.

Wallace says Denver has made great progress in increasing the percentage of people who are released without the need to pay money to avoid jail but she also feels further reform is necessary.

Statewide, the need to reduce the number of people behind bars has hit a crisis point with groups like the ACLU reporting skyrocketing incarceration rates, with 1,500 people jailed in 1970 to over 13,000 in 2017.

State lawmakers passed several pieces of legislation dealing with criminal justice reform in 2019, including restoring voting rights to those on parole; eliminating cash bail for petty and municipal offenses; creating timelines for bond hearings to ensure that people aren’t kept in jail for longer than necessary.

Rebecca Wallace says they hope to build on that work and see further legislation passed in 2020, including a bill that would provide funds to jurisdictions for pretrial services programs, which would enroll people who can’t afford bail into treatment programs, such as alcohol and drug rehabilitation.