Colorado Rights Blog


  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • 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.

Michael Marshall’s Death at the Denver Jail Ruled a Homicide. Why Was He There in the First Place?

(Also posted on the Huffington Post at:

Michael Marshall died last November at the Denver jail from injuries he received under the custody of Denver Sheriff deputies. Earlier today, his death was ruled a homicide by the City coroner’s office. In addition to serious questions about use of force and why another unarmed person of color has died at the hands of Denver law enforcement — his case illustrates several systemic deficiencies of our criminal justice system, both in Denver and nationwide.

Jailing the Poor: It is worth asking why Mr. Marshall was in custody in the first place. Mr. Marshall was arrested on a nonviolent charge of trespassing, and he was held on a supposedly nominal $100 bond. A bond that low indicates that he was not considered a risk to the community if released. Many people would easily bail out for that amount, but for those who are living in extreme poverty, it might as well be a million dollar bond. Clearly, Mr. Marshall could not afford to post bond, and that lack of access to just $100 cost him his freedom and ultimately his life.

At any given time, the majority of people in our jails are not there because of conviction for a crime. They are being held in pre-trial detention, most often leading to a plea bargain for time served in order to be released. Most of them are poor. If nominal bonds are given to people deemed to be a low risk, why not release them on personal recognizance instead of setting a financial threshold that presents a barrier only to people without money?

Lack of Mental Health Support: Marshall suffered from a mental illness that may have played a role in his arrest and detention. Too many people with mental illnesses are funneled into our jails and prisons. There is still inadequate mental health care both in our communities and in the criminal justice system, and law enforcement officers are often inadequately trained in how to interact with people who have a mental illness.

Racial Disparities: Once again, a person of color has died from an encounter with law enforcement. Whether there is conscious racial bias or not, the fact remains that black men and other people of color are much more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and killed by police than whites, and the difference is not in proportion to underlying rates of criminal behavior.

Lack of Transparency and Accountability: Denver has thus far refused to publicly release video showing exactly how Michael Marshall was injured and died in custody. And the track record of law enforcement accountability for use of excessive or deadly force is abysmal, both in Denver and across this nation. Denver has paid millions in settlements, but it has been decades since the Denver District Attorney’s office has indicted law enforcement personnel for excessive force or homicide.

Our jails and prisons continue to be filled not in proportion to who actually commits serious crimes, but disproportionately with people who are poor, people living with mental illness, and people of color, at great personal cost to those who are jailed and their families, and at great financial cost to all of us who pay for crowded prisons and jails. No country puts more people behind bars than the United States, and it isn’t because we have the most criminal population in the world. Jail time is an over-used and often counter-productive tool in this nation and state, and it is time for reforms to end costly mass incarceration.

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