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Here’s what the Colorado Legislature did for criminal justice reform during 2024 session

The Colorado state Capitol in Denver, seen here on Jan. 9, 2023. The Colorado Legislature approved a variety of bills changing the state’s criminal justice system. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The Colorado Legislature approved a variety of bills changing the state’s criminal justice system relating to law enforcement, jails, and protections for those convicted of crimes.

Here are some of the key pieces of criminal justice-related legislation that passed this session, which ended Wednesday.

House Bill 24-1004: Removing barriers to jobs

A Colorado bill would make it easier for people with nonviolent criminal records to meet state credential and licensing requirements for certain professions.

The legislation would create a uniform process that prohibits automatic denial of an applicant due to a criminal record and requires state regulators to consider each individual applicant’s criminal record and present circumstances. The goal of the program is to remove barriers for people with criminal records as they look to meet credential and licensing requirements for certain professions regulated by the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

“This legislation is crucial in bridging the gap between workforce shortages and Coloradans with a criminal history who are trying to break their way out of cycles of incarceration,” bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat, said in a statement. “Current Colorado law makes it difficult for Coloradans with criminal records or histories to qualify for certain careers, reducing their ability to find a good-paying job. With this legislation, we’re streamlining the process for the consideration of Coloradans in these careers to make it easier for them to successfully reenter our communities and to reduce recidivism.”

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

House Bill 24-1372: Prone restraint limits

Colorado legislators approved a bill that would limit law enforcement’s use of prone restraint, which is when an officer holds someone face down on the ground with their hands behind their back.

As soon as a suspect is handcuffed in the prone position, officers would be required to immediately take the person off the ground to ensure they can properly breathe, placing them in a so-called recovery position.

“Due to its high risk of injury and even death, law enforcement officers must do everything possible to avoid the use of prone restraint,” bill sponsor Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, said in a statement. “Going against best practices, over the past few years we have seen troubling examples of harmful uses of prone restraint. This long overdue bill will reinforce best practices, help prevent injury and avoid future deaths.”

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

House Bill 24-1054: Jail standards

Another bill the Legislature approved extends the work of the Legislative Oversight Committee for Colorado Jail Standards through September 2033, as it was originally set to expire in July.

It also creates an advisory committee that will advise conduct assessments of county jails and make recommendations for standards and procedures to the oversight committee.

Every county jail in the state will be required to comply with the standards the oversight committee sets by July 1, 2026. The attorney general will have the authority to investigate any violations of the standards.

“Too often differences in Colorado jail standards result in a lack of appropriate care,” bill sponsor Sen. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat, said in a statement. “By requiring jails to comply with statewide standards established by the Legislative Oversight Committee, we can better ensure that individuals’ needs are being met and we can improve outcomes for those incarcerated in Colorado jails.”

The bill has not yet been signed by the governor.

Senate Bill 24-29: Measure criminal justice system success

Metrics on how the state measures effectiveness of the criminal justice system could be changed under a new study approved by the Colorado Legislature.

A working group including state agencies and community members will study potential metrics other than recidivism to better gauge outcomes for people who have been involved with the criminal justice system. The group will submit a report to relevant legislative committees by July 1, 2025.

Other metrics the group will consider include comprehensive measures including housing, education, mental health and well-being, social support, and community engagement, as well as risk-reduction outcomes to supplement recidivism data.

The bill has been signed into law by the governor.

House Bill 24-1071: Name change to conform with gender identity

The Legislature also approved a bill that would add gender-affirming care to the definition of good cause for when a person convicted of a felony petitions to change their legal name.

The bill intends to make it easier for a transgender person convicted of a felony to change their legal name to match their gender identity. The name change petition would still need to go in front of a judge for a final decision.

A new legal name would still be attached to the person’s previous name in criminal justice records, social security number and identifying characteristics like fingerprints.

The bill has been signed into law by the governor.

House Concurrent Resolution 24-1002: Bail exception for first-degree murder defendants

Lawmakers approved legislation that will send a question to voters asking if people charged with first-degree murder should be denied bail “when proof is evident or presumption is great” that the person will be found guilty.

Colorado repealed the death penalty in 2020, but the state Constitution still references “capital offenses.” Previously, a court could deny bail for death penalty cases, such as when the charge was first-degree murder. But the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2023 that first-degree murder cases could not be considered capital offenses for the purposes of denying bail since the death penalty is no longer a potential sentence.

For a defendant charged with first-degree murder to be denied bail under the proposed amendment, prosecutors would have to show a judge that at trial they are likely to prove the defendant is guilty of first-degree murder.

The bipartisan measure requires approval from 55% of voters, because it would amend the Colorado Constitution.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.