A New report highlights racial disparity in Colorado’s booming prison population

In 2017, roughly one in 28 adult black men in Colorado was in prison. Put another way, African Americans made up 18 percent of the prison population and only 4 percent of the state’s adult population, an incarceration rate that was seven times higher than the rate for white Coloradans. Latinos in Colorado fared little better. Latinos made up one-fifth of adult Coloradans, but nearly one-third of adult inmates in the state prison system. The numbers come from a recently released ACLU report on Colorado, part of a national campaign aimed at “cutting the nation’s incarcerated population in half and combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice estimates that the more than 20,000 people in the state’s prisons currently will jump to 27,770 by 2025. The main driver of that growth is an expected increase in the total number of arrests and filings of cases to court, due in large part to an increase in arrests for drug possession, a rise in the ratio of arrests to filings, a growing population and more vehicle thefts. According to the Campaign for Smart Justice’s report, released earlier this month, if its proposed reforms are made, Colorado’s prison population would be reduced by more than 9,000 people by 2025. The gradual application of those reforms, the report estimates, would lead to a total savings of $675 million. The current prison population cost Colorado taxpayers more than $425 million for 2017-2018, not counting management and other costs, which puts that number near $1 billion. The report’s suggested reforms include: Reducing sentence lengths by 60 percent across nine categories of criminal offense — including assault, burglary, drug offenses and public order violations — resulting in the lion’s share of the 9,000 inmate reduction.

“Evaluating prosecutors’ charging and plea bargaining practices” to eliminate discrimination. Reducing the use of pretrial detention and eliminating “wealth-based incarceration” — as minorities disproportionately affected by poverty often can’t meet bail.

Ending overpolicing in communities of color.

Eliminating incarcerations for drug possession.

Moving funding from law enforcement and corrections to community social service providers.

Changing the system of charging and sentencing of drug users, specifically encouraging substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration and community programs as diversionary tactics before people are booked. Increasing releases to parole and the use of community corrections beds, keeping non-violent prisoners out of the system.

Strengthening the requirements of the 2015 Community Law Enforcement Action Reporting [CLEAR] Act, citing the Judicial Department collection of information on race but not ethnicity — meaning that many Hispanic defendants are classified as white, causing racial disparities to be underestimated. In 2016 this meant that Hispanics represented 22 percent of the Colorado population, but only 6 percent of court cases statewide were classified as Hispanic in the data system, according to the Colorado Division of Public Safety.

~ via @aclu and www.coloradoindependent.com

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