TO: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee
FROM: Julie Reiskin, Executive Director, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
RE: HB19-1225 and SB 19-191
I am writing on behalf of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) to ask for your support of HB19-1225 and SB 19-191. CCDC is Colorado’s largest disability-led membership organization. Our mission is to advocate for social justice on behalf of people with all types of disabilities (cross-disability).
CCDC strongly believes and states in our strategic plan that people with disabilities must have both rights and responsibilities. Much of policy work is geared towards creating systems that enable people to engage in the full responsibilities of citizenship. We have made great strides in Colorado, but have a long way to go. Because of the many systemic injustices and barriers faced by people with disabilities, our community is disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of education, and unemployment. These systemic barriers are reversing, but very slowly.
One example is that since 2014 we have had the ability to buy into Medicaid while still being able to engage in competitive employment, and earn and save money. Since having this option the percentage of people with disabilities working full-time and full-year increased from 26-29% (as of 2017 the last year with available data). Therefore we still have more than 70% of people with disabilities are NOT employed full time and full year. Those not able to take advantage of this great program, or those still scarred by years or even decades of being told that work is impossible and savings constitutes some sort of fraud remain in poverty and often are reliant on programs that do not allow them to ever accumulate more than $2000 in all assets combined in any one month. If someone gets an SSDI check of $1200 this means that they could never have more than $800 in the bank.
Because of systemic discrimination, people with disabilities are dramatically overrepresented at every stage in the criminal justice system. Jail is no exception. People in jail are 4 times more likely to have disabilities than people in the general population, and more than half of people in jail have psychiatric disabilities. The injustice of these disparities are heightened in the pretrial conext, where presumptively innocent people may have their lives derailed from pretrial detention for a crime they did not commit or which is so minor that they would never even receive jail as s sentence. I share this to explain why HB 19-1225 and SB 19-191 is so important for people with disabilities.
When someone is detained pending trial a plethora of other problems can occur that are exacerbated by living with a disability.
In some housing situations, particularly assisted living, if one is gone more than a limited number of days one can lose their place. Then the person is not only facing criminal charges, but is now experiencing homelessness. Replacement housing for low-income people with disabilities is very unlikely..especially if there is some sort of criminal record.
Many people with disabilities are living in deep poverty. There is no extra money and they balance every month trying to manage. Fees involved in the criminal justice system add up quickly and if they pay, this is likely to cause the individual to not pay rent, utilities or other bills. Often they will give up services such as their phone, which then removes all of their data, reminder systems, etc. They then are not able to be reached and often get in more trouble for missing deadlines and appearance dates. For people unable to physically write, or those with cognitive disabilities who may have been trained using specialized apps to manage information are particularly hard hit. Finally, people often skimp on food and eat what is cheap, which causes secondary health issues OR they are forced to skip psychiatric medication because they do not have food to take with the meds.
Often when people are kept in jail too long due to problems releasing people after they have posted bond people have other problems. They miss scheduled medications, people who use oxygen may run out. Some people may require oxygen only at night but if they are kept in jail overnight a medical visit is required before the jail can provide oxygen if the individual has none. People in supervised living situations have curfews. Sometimes people are released so late that there is no public transportation. Because jails cannot give family or friends a specific (or even approximate) time, arranging for transportation home is a problem.
Unfortunately, poor people often have many debts. Once someone is involved with the criminal justice system they start incurring fees and fines. This can include fees for taking “classes”, fines for missing said classes, fees for “therapy” groups, and various other charges. When one is again arrested, any fees applied to the new bond should not be taken to address anything else.
HB1225 and SB191 are both smartly aimed at safely and smartly decreasing our pretrial population, in which people with disabilities are hugely overrepresented. Our support of this bill in no way implies that we think people with disabilities should not be held accountable if they commit a crime. What we do want, is a system that will have the punishment be proportional to the crime. Too often we see people with punishments that far exceed the crime. People with disabilities who are arrested should have to answer for their crimes (if they actually committed the crime) but that process should not cause someone to forever lose their housing, cause severe medical complications, or destabilize the person completely.
We believe HB19-1225 and SB 19-191 will help make justice more just in Colorado for the community that we represent and request your support.
If you haven’t voted yet, and you know who you are, you better do so and do it FAST!
During each election, I get asked “Kevin, which of these judges should I vote to retain?” The truth is these questions don’t really affect what CCDC Civil Rights lawyers do. Here’s why: the judges on your ballot are not Federal judges. We practice in Federal Court. State and other judges are appointed by the governor for certain periods of time. What you see on your ballot is the question of whether that judge should be retained.
The ADA, Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and most other disability rights acts that we enforce are federal laws. All Federal judges (District Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court) are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. I have explained this process in several blogs before. For example, see Judges! Hoo! What are They Good For? Absolutely Something. I have also explained why it is so important when you are voting for the President and for your senators to consider your civil rights. There are no U.S. senators to vote for on this ballot; you probably do have U.S. Representatives on your ballot. You definitely want to support those candidates who support disability rights. I simply want to make the point that U.S. Representatives are not involved in the confirmation process of federal judges, only U.S. Senators.
Some ways to find information regarding State Court judges are: (1) review the Blue Book that should have been mailed to you or log on to the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation – this is a good starting point; (2) get on the internet – there is a lot of useful information put out by organizations that may have a viewpoint regarding whether or not State Court judges should be retained; (3) if you are aware of lawyers who do practice in State Courts, contact them and get their advice. There are many ways to research how a judge has ruled on cases. This information is easily accessible on the internet and other sources.
It is possible to bring a disability civil rights case in State Court under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. If so, it might be important to find out how the judges on your ballot have ruled on such cases in the past. Try searching on the name of the judge and “disability” and “civil rights.” However, there are very few published disability rights cases that have been decided by State Court judges. I should also make clear that you can file a disability rights lawsuit in federal court under the ADA or other federal laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities, but the defendant can remove the case to federal court. They usually do that. It is a tactical advantage because it slows the case down. That is why it doesn’t really make sense to file a federal court lawsuit in state court.
Remember, you can always just leave the box blank if you do not have an opinion on the judge to be retained. Your ballot will still count. And there are many important issues and candidates on your ballot you should vote for. See the CCDC 2018 Ballot Guide.
-Kevin Williams, CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director