The Youthful Offender System is a detention facility for minors in Pueblo, Colorado. Young adults convicted of violent felonies can spend their jail term there. The unique program used at the jail focuses on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Compared to the normal prison system, far fewer people who pass through the Youthful Offender System commit another crime. However, the program is known to be very difficult to complete successfully.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is the Youthful Offender System in Colorado?
- 2. How is the program at the YOS different from traditional jail?
- 3. Who is eligible for a sentence at the Youthful Offender System?
- 4. How are YOS sentences different from normal convictions?
1. What is the Youthful Offender System in Colorado?
The Youthful Offender System, or YOS, is an alternative jail. It was created by the law CRS 18-1.3.407 in 1994. Young adults who have been convicted for violent felonies are eligible to be sentenced to YOS. It is located at 1300 West 13th Street, Pueblo, Colorado.
The YOS has been referred to as both a medium-security prison and a maximum-security prison. It is officially listed as a Level III Security Facility.1 The jail has room for 256 people.
Inmates in the Youthful Offender System progress through a program with 4 phases:
- An intake, diagnostic, and orientation phase,
- Phase I: A highly-structured schedule that includes educational and vocational classes,
- Phase II: The last 3 months of the YOS program has a relaxed structure that emphasizes independent living at the YOS facility, and
- Phase III: Inmates are released from the YOS facility for community supervision.2
Judges can send young people who have been convicted of eligible crimes to YOS, rather than to jail.
2. How is the program at the YOS different from traditional jail?
Unlike a traditional jail, the Youthful Offender System focuses on rehabilitating inmates, rather than punishing them. The Youthful Offender System does this by isolating young inmates from the general prison population. It also gives inmates opportunities to learn the skills they need to reintegrate into society.3
As required by statute,4 inmates in the YOS can take education and social classes, including:
- Adult basic education,
- Business classes,
- GED classes,
- Anger management, and
- Sex offender treatment classes.
The YOS program used to allow inmates to pursue high school credits. However, that educational component was phased out in September, 2017.5 Now, all YOS inmates pursue a GED, rather than a high school diploma.
There are also a handful of vocational classes offered at YOS. Some of these provide training for jobs in:
- Electrical work,
- Computer repair, and
- Auto repair.
In 2018, 84% of YOS inmates were released to community supervision with a GED, high school diploma, or vocational degree.6
The goal of helping inmates return to society is different from the goal of a traditional jail. Jails are more focused on punishing inmates by taking away their liberty. Few people are released from jail with the professional skills that are developed in YOS.
As a result, the recidivism rate for inmates released from YOS is lower than those released from jail:
Percentage of Inmates Released from YOS Who Later Get Arrested7
Percentage of Inmates Released from Jail Who Later Get Arrested8
Within 1 Year
Within 3 Years
Within 5 Years
3. Who is eligible for a sentence at the Youthful Offender System?
Only young adults who have been convicted for violent felonies are eligible for YOS. Defendants facing a juvenile offense are not eligible for YOS.
Even if you are eligible for YOS, it is still within the judge's discretion to send you there rather than to jail.
3.1. Young adults
To be eligible for the Youthful Offender System, you have to be:
- Between 14 and 17 years old at the time of your conviction and sentence, or
- 18 or 19 at the time of the offense and under 21 at the time of your sentence.
3.2. Convictions for violent felonies
Only convictions for violent felonies, except Class 1 felonies, are eligible for YOS. Young adults convicted for a Class 2 felony are eligible for YOS, but can face up to a 7 year sentence, rather than a 6-year maximum.
Eligible offenses include:
- First-degree assault (CRS 18-3-202),
- Second-degree assault (CRS 18-3-203),
- Aggravated robbery (CRS 18-4-302),
- Second-degree murder (CRS 18-3-103), and
- Manslaughter (CRS 18-3-104).
4. How are YOS sentences different from normal convictions?
Sentences to the Youthful Offender System are different from normal convictions in 4 ways:
- The jail term for the conviction is suspended,
- The sentence to YOS is often a fraction of the length of the suspended sentence,
- YOS sentences are determinate and not reduced by time already served, and
- Unlike juvenile convictions, a conviction leading to YOS stays on your criminal background.
4.1. YOS begins with a suspended jail sentence
Criminal defendants enter the Youthful Offender System after being convicted for a crime. If the judge determines the defendant would benefit from YOS rather than jail, they can suspend the jail sentence.9
A suspended jail sentence only has to be served if certain conditions are not met. The judge can require a defendant to complete the YOS program.
If you complete the Youthful Offender System, the suspended jail sentence will vacated. You will not have to serve the jail time.
However, if you fail to complete YOS, you will have to serve the sentence that was suspended.
In this way, YOS is similar to a diversion program. However, passing the Youthful Offender System is difficult. Only 78.6% of inmates complete the program.10
4.2. YOS sentences are shorter than a normal jail sentence
A criminal conviction carries jail time according to the class of crime. YOS sentences, though, are between 2 and 7 years.
For example, a jail sentence for a Class 3 felony in Colorado is between 4 and 12 years. If the judge suspends the sentence and sends you to YOS, the maximum sentence is only 7 years.
The inmates in the Youthful Offender System have all been convicted for violent felonies. These convictions often carry long jail sentences. Many terms in the Youthful Offender System are less than half as long as the suspended sentence.
4.3. YOS sentences are determinate
Judges sentence defendants to determinate times in the Youthful Offender System. The time period the judge issues cannot be changed after the fact. This means:
- There is no early release from YOS,
- YOS inmates cannot get parole, and
- Inmates in YOS do not get credit for time already served in jail before their conviction.
4.4. YOS sentences stay on your criminal history
Defendants who go through the Youthful Offender System are adults. People facing juvenile offenses cannot go through YOS. A YOS inmate cannot have their record sealed after the sentence. Once they complete the Youthful Offender System, the felony will still be on their record.
Call us for help…
You can seek a sentence at the Youthful Offender System. However, this is a serious decision to make. A criminal defense lawyer can help you weigh your options. Call our attorneys or contact us online. We can help you decide what is right for you.
C.R.S. § 17-1-104.3(1)(b).
See C.R.S. § 18-1.3-407(3.3) and Youthful Offender System Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report.
C.R.S. § 18-1.3-407(1)(a) (The Youthful Offender System is supposed to provide “a sentencing option for certain youthful offenders a controlled and regimented environment that affirms dignity of self and others, promotes the value of work and self-discipline, and develops useful skills and abilities through enriched programming”).
C.R.S. § 18-1.3-407(4) (“The youthful offender system shall provide for community supervision which shall consist of highly structured surveillance and monitoring and educational and treatment programs”).
Youthful Offender System Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report.
See Note 5.
See Note 5.
U.S. Department of Justice, “2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-Up Period (2005-2014)” (May 2018).
C.R.S. § 18-1.3-407(2) (“In order to sentence a juvenile or young adult offender to the youthful offender system, the court shall first impose upon such person a sentence to the department of corrections in accordance with section 18-1.3-401. The court shall thereafter suspend such sentence conditioned on completion of a sentence to the youthful offender system, including a period of community supervision”).
See Note 5.