Colorado Rights Blog


  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

  • One year ago, thousands of Coloradans marched in a historic display of resistance. At the ACLU of Colorado we carried that spirit throughout the year, fighting on many fronts for civil liberties. We won’t stop now.

  • By canceling DACA, Trump has put 800,000 young people at risk of losing their jobs and being deported from the only country they know as home. Passing the bipartisan Dream Act would protect them. We asked four Dreamers why the Dream Act is important to them and their future.



Experts are sounding the alarm of the public health threat that prisons and jails pose during this pandemic. There is a heightened risk of infection for people who are involved in the criminal legal system – people living in it, people working in it, and the communities they return home to. It is not a question of  if  the COVID-19 virus will take hold in Colorado’s prisons and jails; it’s a matter of when. We need everyone’s help to save lives.


March 17, 2020 – Letter to the Governor

ACLU of Colorado and eight  criminal justice and indigent defense organizations  sent a letter to Governor Polis and Chief Justice Coats, among others, urging immediate action to address the heightened risk of COVID-19 spreading to incarcerated individuals, correctional staff and, ultimately, the public.

Read the full letter sent to Governor Polis and other state officials

March 19, 2020 – Letter to Colorado Juvenile Justice Officials

ACLU of Colorado and eleven organizations sent a letter to Colorado juvenile justice officials outlining immediate actions to take to protect incarcerated children. 

Read the letter sent to Colorado juvenile justice officials

March 22, 2020 – Letter from an Infectious Disease Expert

Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, an infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, sent a letter to policymakers, judicial officers, sheriffs, wardens and parole boards, stating his concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons.

“The conditions in these facilities do not allow for appropriate infection control protocols and will make the current COVID-19 pandemic worse. Incarcerated populations have higher rates of underlying illness and, by extension, will have a higher case fatality rate.”

Read Dr. Franco-Paredes’ letter to policymakers and criminal legal system officials

March 24, 2020 – Governor Polis’ Guidance to Law Enforcement

Governor Polis issued guidance to Colorado counties, municipalities, law enforcement agencies and detentions centers, emphasizing the need to incarcerate fewer people in the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Read Governor Polis’ Guidance to Counties, Municipalities, Law Enforcement Agencies, and Detention Centers

March 25, 2020 – Our Statement on the Governor’s Guidance

ACLU of Colorado released a statement commending Governor Polis for putting science and public health above politics by urging localities to take immediate action to safely and substantially reduce the jail population. We called upon the Chief Justice to ensure that every judge responds with equal haste to lower jail populations across the state. 

Read the ACLU of Colorado Statement on Gov. Polis’ Guidance to Local Law Enforcement

March 25, 2020 – Governor Polis Issues an Executive Order

The Governor issued and Executive Order to aid in lowering the prisoner population in state prisons and community corrections. Polis’ action suspended state laws to increase the authority of the Executive Director of the Department of Corrections to release certain incarcerated people.

Read Governor Polis’ Executive Order 

March 26, 2020 – Letter to Colorado Sheriffs

ACLU of Colorado sent a letter to all Colorado sheriffs to collectively help stop the spread of COVID-19 by safely and swiftly reducing the jail population.

Read the ACLU of Colorado letter to sheriffs

April 3, 2020 – Coalition Files Lawsuit

The Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel filed two emergency petitions today asking the Colorado Supreme Court to take immediate action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado jails. The ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Disability Law Colorado, Colorado Lawyers Committee and the Lawyers Civil Rights Coalition joined the petition as parties in interest.

Read the petition

April 8, 2020 – Class Action Lawsuit filed against Weld County Sheriff

ACLU and civil rights attorneys filed a class action lawsuit in federal court, seeking an emergency order to compel Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams to comply with COVID-19 public health guidelines – including physical distancing – for all high-risk people being held in the Weld County Jail.

Read the release here.

May 8, 2020 – Coalition letter to Governor Polis to Stop COVID-19 From Becoming a Death Sentence for People in Prisons

Several organizations called on Governor Polis today to assert his executive authority and clemency powers to protect the most vulnerable people in prisons before it’s too late. In a letter sent to the Governor, the organizations cited new data proving that his actions to date are insufficient to protect the lives of elderly and medically compromised people in prisons, correctional staff and the community at large.

Read the letter here.

May 11, 2020 – Federal Judge Orders Weld County Jail to Protect Medically Vulnerable People From COVID-19

A federal judge issued a 39-page ruling holding that the U.S. Constitution requires that Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams provide special protections to medically vulnerable people incarcerated in the Weld County Jail. Judge Phillip A. Brimmer’s order was issued after a full-day evidentiary hearing on April 30 in a class action lawsuit filed by a team of ACLU and civil right attorneys seeking an order to compel Sheriff Reams to comply with public health guidelines — including physical distancing — for all high-risk people being held at the jail. 

Read the release here.

May 27, 2020 – Advocates to Governor Polis: Failure to Renew Prison Executive Order Will Cause Needless Suffering and Death

Several criminal justice organizations slammed Governor Polis’ decision to not renew parts of his Executive Order, which granted the Colorado Department of Corrections broad authority to safely release thousands of people from prisons in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside facilities and ultimately save lives. The Governor’s decision to halt the order comes on the heels of an April analysis provided to CDOC that predicted COVID-19 would infect more than 16,000 people living and working in the prisons and kill 150 to 170 incarcerated people and 73 to 80 staffers if prison populations aren’t reduced.

Read the statement here.

May 27, 2020 – No One Deserves to Die From COVID-19

Colorado recently abolished the death penalty, and yet older and medically vulnerable Coloradans are facing a death sentence in prisons that will not protect them from the virus. We must continue to safely lower jail and prison populations in order to save lives. No one deserves to die from COVID-19. 

Read the story collection here.

May 28, 2020 – ACLU Files Class Action Lawsuit against Governor and DOC for Failure to Protect Medically Vulnerable People in Prison from COVID-19

ACLU of Colorado filed a class action lawsuit today against Governor Polis and the Department of Corrections seeking an emergency order to compel the DOC to protect medically vulnerable incarcerated people from COVID-19. The requested order includes prioritizing the release of people who are older, sick, or otherwise vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID-19 and who pose no threat to public safety. ACLU’s lawsuit comes on the heels of DOC modeling that projects thousands of incarcerated people and staff will become infected and hundreds will die if prison populations are not reduced.

Read the release here.


While Colorado’s COVID-19 curve is flattening, the public health crisis is ramping up in our prisons, which are set to become the epicenter of Colorado’s fight against the virus. The Governor must take action to bring our neighbors safely home or more people will die both behind bars and in the community. We need statewide leadership to reduce incarcerated populations and release the most vulnerable communities from prison as a vital step in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Tell Governor Polis to free the elderly and sick from Colorado’s prisons and stop the spread of COVID-19.

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