Two progressive advocacy groups, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Prison Policy Initiative, released a detailed report last week arguing that Colorado’s emphasis on incarceration over poverty reduction has hurt low-income neighborhoods and people of color over a 40-year period.
“This seminal report is both appalling and not surprising as over-policing and mass incarceration has targeted low-income communities and communities of color for generations,” said Christie Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, in a news release. “We aren’t facing a crisis of crime, we are facing a crisis of neglect and lack of investment in communities of color and we hope this report will mobilize impacted residents and their elected officials to embrace community development as a public safety strategy.”
The report breaks down the number of people who are incarcerated by the county, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract, and other areas to help researchers and policymakers study the impact that mass incarceration has on a community.
The report’s main takeaways:
- Every county in Colorado has someone in prison, but some neighborhoods are affected more than others.
- Alamosa and Bent have some of the highest imprisonment rates in the state, with large communities of Hispanic, Latino, or Native American populations living there.
- The incarceration rates between communities are significantly different. For example: In Denver, people who live in Elyria-Swansea neighborhood are 20 times more likes to be arrested and imprisoned than people who live in Washington Park West.
- Most people in state prisons are from the three largest cities in the state: Denver, Aurora, and Colorado Springs.
One contributor to the failure of incarceration was prison gerrymandering. Prison gerrymandering increases the population of legislative districts in which the prisons are located. Under prison gerrymandering, even if prisoners are not originally from the district in which the prison resides, their votes will be counted in that prison’s district. This study was conducted after the end of prison gerrymandering in Colorado thanks to a law passed in 2020. It mandates that the census count prisoners as living in the district they came from, not in the prison’s district. The state of Colorado is one of a hand full of states and 200 local governments that have taken action to end prison gerrymandering, according to The New York Times.
“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative, in a news release. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”
The counties that have the most people in state prison during the 2020 census were Denver with 2,712 people incarcerated, El Paso with 2,378 people incarcerated, and Adams with 1,599 people incarcerated. While the counties with the highest incarceration rates are Alamosa with .57%, Pueblo with .472%, and Bent with .465% of their populations incarcerated during the 2020 census. Other counties, such as San Juan and Mineral, have the lowest incarceration rates with 0% of the population in prison during the 2020 census.