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DENVER (KDVR) — A think tank and former district attorneys said something needs to change at a high level regarding Colorado’s crime, or it may worsen.

The Common Sense Institute released a study Thursday on crime in Colorado and its potential causes. Former district attorneys George Brauchler and Mitch Morrisey co-authored the study.

The former prosecutors said the problem is with the state’s current judges and district attorneys who have kept risky offenders out of jail. Both are urging lawmakers to act. The report says the crimes are costing taxpayers an estimated $27 billion.

“The judicial branch could [take action] if they were motivated to do so, but why would they want to create metrics that hold their feet to the fire and show some of the results of their poor decision-making?” Brauchler said. “I agree with Mitch, this is driven by the legislature and the governor. They’re the ones that control the laws in this state that govern things like transparency and reporting. They could do it and they could do it in the next session.”

“If you look at the statistics in this report about how much property crime is costing us, that word ‘just’ that goes in front of auto theft, ‘just’ property crimes, like they don’t really matter — they do matter.,” Morrisey said.

FOX31 reached out to current Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. Her communications director responded, saying in part:

“DA McCann believes that the real drivers to our current crime spike are the economic and societal hardships from COVID, the prevalence of guns in our community, the devastation wrought by the opioid epidemic and the lack of adequate mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

What the data shows

The study says Colorado’s crime rates cannot simply be blamed on the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic cranked up a crime rate that had already been increasing for a decade across several categories.

Between 2011 and 2020, crime had gone up against the national trend in Colorado. Rape rose 7%, assault by 40%, the murder rate by 106% and the motor vehicle theft rate by 135%, making it the country’s worst motor vehicle theft rate.

These trends continued into 2021. The average monthly crime rate in 2021 was 19% higher than only two years prior.

The Common Sense Institute’s study places the blame on policies that have emptied jails and prisons.

In the years from 2008 to the present, Colorado’s correctional system population has shrunk by 23%. In the same stretch of time, its annual crimes have grown by 47%.

Three issues contribute: low-value or personal recognizance bonds, more parole for felons, and the emptying of jails at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

Personal recognizance, or PR, bonds require no money to be released from pre-trial detention. In the last two years, PR bonds in Denver increased 61%. The number of bonds that cost only $1 or $2 went from almost nonexistent from 2017-19 to more than 1,000 between 2020 and 2021.