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New report reveals where people in Colorado prisons come from

Posted at 3:54 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 22:40:36-04

DENVER – The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Prison Policy Initiative recently released a new report that details the Colorado communities most impacted by incarceration.

“In 2020, there was legislation that was passed that ended what is known as prison gerrymandering, which had been the practice for during the census process where you count people in prison in the community where they are incarcerated and not in their home community,” Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition executive director Christie Donner said. “So they counted for purposes of the political clout, you know, the allocation of political power, but they didn't count in terms of any benefit for them.”

Donner says now that inmates are counted in their hometown populations, the new data reveals an unsurprising but disturbing trend.

“We've know that incarceration impacts different communities differently, particularly the overuse of incarceration and over policing in predominantly communities of color and low income communities,” Donner said.

But the Prison Policy Initiative communications director Mike Wessler says the neighborhood impacts were surprising.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Denver sends more people to prison than any other places state, with its big population,” Wessler said. “One of these communities, which is Sun Valley, 2%, of its population is in state prison right now. Now, imagine one out of every 50 people that you know just disappeared and went to prison tomorrow.”

The data shows there are nine times as many incarcerated people from Elyria-Swansea than from Washington Park West.

The report also revealed:

  • Every Colorado legislative district — and nearly every county — is impacted, where a portion of its population is incarcerated in state prisons. However, the degree of that impact varies wildly when you drill down into the neighborhood level. 
  • Two communities with large Hispanic, Latino, or Native American populations — Alamosa and Bent — have some of the highest imprisonment rates in the state.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, in Denver, residents of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood are 20 times more likely to be imprisoned than residents of nearby Washington Park West.

The counties with the most people in state prison at the time of the 2020 census were Denver (2,712), El Paso (2,378), and Adams counties (1,599).

For comparison, San Juan and Mineral counties have the lowest prison incarceration rates, with no residents in prison.

“Now that we know the neighborhoods that these people are coming from, we can develop programs and place them in these communities to help break the cycle of poverty,” Wessler said.

Donner says she hopes this data empowers state leaders to redirect funding and address the underlying causes of mass incarceration.