The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice estimates that more than 20,000 Coloradans are currently locked-up in the state’s prisons and that number is expected to jump to more than 27,000 by 2025. A large part of that growth will be due to our booming state population, but also an increase in the ratio of the number of arrests and criminal convictions. Not only are we locking up more Colorado citizens for drug possession, theft, and non-violent offenses, but we are prosecuting them at a higher rate and seeking longer prison sentences. Democrats in Colorado recently passed a bill to reclassify drug possession for tiny amounts of most Schedule I-II substances, but the state still treats addiction and drug possession as a serious crime. Coloradans would still spend up to 180 days in jail, which would derail their entire lives and livelihoods. The bill will hopefully reduce the prison population slightly and save taxpayers somewhere between $8.6 million to $13.7 million over 5 years. However, these savings are only a drop in the bucket given Colorado spends $1.1 billion every year on jails and incarceration instead of homes and education.
We all know our criminal justice system is not one built on fairness and justice for victims. Rather it is built on race and how much money you happen to have in the bank. Your access to expensive legal representation, your job, your gender identity, and the color of your skin has often more to do with whether or not you are found guilty than the facts of the case. In Colorado, Latinos make up one-fifth of our state’s population, but over one-third of adult inmates in state prison. For African Americans in Colorado the outwork is worse. The black incarceration rate is seven times higher than the rate for white Coloradans, with roughly four percent of adult black men in Colorado currently sitting in prison.
We can vote to change the system and our approach to criminal justice so we can stop criminalizing poverty and spending over a billion dollars a year on a system that spends $40,000 per inmate every year locking up people in jail and then releasing them with little hope of them escaping arrest in the future.
The ACLU recently released a Campaign for Smart Justice report that outlines how we can reduce Colorado’s prison population by 50% and save over $675 million in the next 5 years through exceedingly reasonable and well-researched changes. We endorse these proposals and go further by:
- Instituting a 5-year cap on all prison sentences
- Releasing all individuals incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses
- Decriminalizing poverty
- Ending cash bail
- Ending Private and For-Profit Prisons
- Fully funding the offices of public defenders
- Stop over-policing in communities of color
- Closing the school-to-prison pipeline