DENVER —A man known for putting taxpayer protection initiatives on the Colorado ballot has shifted to criminal justice matters, saying the state legislature won’t do anything to get the criminals off the street, so he’s decided to take it to the people.
Michael Fields, President of Advance Colorado is currently pursuing a ballot initiative for 2024 that would mandate violent offenders serve a large percentage of their sentence before being released back into the public.
Fields said his initiative is the result of a 2021 crime in which Kenneth Dean Lee was arrested for impersonating an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent to an Aurora family and then sexually assaulting their 7-year-old daughter while they were in the home.
At the time of his arrest, Lee was on parole for similar crimes he committed a decade earlier. For those crimes, Lee was sentenced to 23 years to life but was released after serving nine and half years, or just 40 percent of his sentence.
If passed, Initiative 71 — which it is known as for now — would force violent offenders to serve most of their sentences, possibly lowering the recidivism rates and reducing crime in Colorado, Fields said.
“Why do we have the fourth worst recidivism rate (in the country), but we’re letting people out after only serving 40 percent of their sentence,” Fields said. “I understand good behavior, you get a little time off. But 23 years to life, how are you out after just nine years?”
Fields initially attempted to put this on the 2022 ballot, but it was submitted late in the process and Attorney General Phil Weiser’s representative on the state’s title board was able to block it, Fields said.
Initiative 71 is currently in the Legislative Council’s hands, but the process should go rather quickly, Fields said, because it has already gone through the process successfully once this year, despite a single-subject challenge in the courts. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in Fields’ favor, and it was ready to begin gathering signatures, but Fields decided to change something in the ballot language, so the measure will go back before the title board.
Measure aimed at the ‘worst of the worst’
“This will be on the ballot next year,” Fields said. “This is one that will pass, that will have an impact. It will be only about 500 people a year that will be impacted by it, but they are the worst of the worst.”
Fields said after some investigation, some Class 2 violent felons are getting out on average after just 43 percent of their sentence. Class 2 felonies include such things as second-degree murder, rape, first-degree assault, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery, to name a few.
Under this initiative, most people sentenced for second-degree murder, first-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, first-or second-degree sexual assault, first-degree arson, first-degree burglary or aggravated robbery that was committed between July 1, 1987, and Jan. 1, 2025, and who had been convicted previously of a crime of violence would be required to serve at least 75 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Anyone convicted and sentenced for second-degree murder, first-degree assault, class 2 felony kidnapping, certain sexual assault crimes, first-degree arson, first-degree burglary, or aggravated robbery after Jan. 1, 2025, will be required to serve 85 percent of their time before becoming eligible for parole.
Anyone convicted of the same crimes in the two different categories named who was convicted twice previously of a crime of violence will have to serve 100 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Fields said the initiative polls at a 78 percent acceptance rate.
“People say ‘Of course we want them to stay in longer,’ “Fields said.
Fields said the problem is not just with Colorado’s laws — which do not classify sexual assault as a violent crime — but partially the parole board too, which determines what is and what isn’t good behavior. According to a 9News report after Lee was arrested in 2021, the parole board released him because “appropriate treatment dosage” was received and “adequate institutional conduct” was met.
Just months after he was released, “he goes and does the exact same thing to a 7-year-old girl in Aurora,” Fields said. “Go explain to that family why this guy was out when he got 23 years to life, and he was allowed to do the same thing to your little girl.”
Fields said there are many stories like this where they are re-offending after they should have been incarcerated for 25 years or more and they are out after spending just a small percentage of that time behind bars.
Fields said Initiative 71 should be out of title board and gathering signatures in the next few weeks.
Fields is an experienced hand with citizen-initiated ballot measures, having previously been a proponent on a measure requiring voter approval for large new state fees, which Colorado voters easily passed in the 2020 November election.
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