SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado legislators have closed a loophole in state law that allowed certain sex offenders to get out of prison early and transfer to community corrections before completing required treatment.
To fully understand what exactly changed in the law, it’s important to take a step back and learn more about the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act (LSA). This allows people convicted of high-level sex offenses to stay in prison or under supervision until they have progressed in their treatment and are no longer considered a threat to the community. The act was passed in 1998.
Another important distinction to make is between determinate and indeterminate sentences. A determinate sentence is for a fixed period of time. An indeterminate sentence would be something, such as four years to life in prison.
According to the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, indeterminate sex crimes include felony sex assault, sex assault by a peace officer, and sex offenses against children.
Under the LSA, people who receive an indeterminate sentence can shorten the length of time they spend in prison. An offender would do so by participating in rehabilitation services, which come either through being granted parole or a transfer to Community Corrections. However, there was no treatment or risk-assessment requirement for a sex offender to transfer to Community Corrections. Those conditions existed to be granted parole.
“These individuals, guilty of egregious crimes, pose a safety risk, and our concern is that they were being released into the community without being treated,” said Deputy Executive Director for the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, Arnold Hanuman. Hanuman said the council had prosecutors observe this lack of assessment and treatment for underlying sex crimes before offenders were released to Community Corrections, otherwise known as a halfway house.
The Council also reported that 70% of people charged with an indeterminate offense received no prison time from 2013 to 2016.
2,919 people have gotten indeterminate prison sentences since the year 2000. Over three-quarters of those prison sentences involve sex offenses against a child. 37% of people with an indeterminate sentence are paroled.
The Council advocated for this bill (SB20-085) to change the LSA because they said the loophole is problematic for victims of sexual assault. For instance, a survivor could be told their perpetrator would be spending four years in prison, but that offender could actually be back in the community in as little as 16 months without being evaluated as a risk to society.
“It strengthens our sentencing and what we can tell victims. And, that they will be safer, given that individuals would not be released early without being treated,” said Hanuman.