Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • 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. 

Vote Yes on A to Abolish Slavery

By Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, ACLU of Colorado Executive Director 

Would it surprise you to learn that even though Colorado was never a slave state, the Colorado Constitution still leaves a door open for legal slavery in this state? Colorado voters have the opportunity on November 6 to vote yes on Amendment A and close this constitutional loophole, finishing the constitutional abolition of slavery in Colorado. Along with the Abolish Slavery Colorado coalition and a wide array of bipartisan and nonpartisan supporters, the ACLU of Colorado endorses Amendment A to “prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances” in Colorado.

The problem is rooted in the politics surrounding the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery after the Civil War. That amendment also abolished “involuntary servitude” to avoid slavery by another name. However, in order to get it approved, the amendment was modified to say, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” While some states do not have language echoing that exception, and some explicitly prohibit slavery with no exceptions, the Colorado Constitution uses the same exception allowing slavery as a punishment for crime.

Slavery is not a Colorado value, and it should not even be a possibility under the Colorado Constitution.

After the Civil War, many states, mostly former slave states, immediately exploited the 13th Amendment loophole allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. Many former slaves were arrested and then put back into slave labor conditions through convict leasing, a lucrative practice that generated more than 70% of total state revenues for the state of Alabama in 1898. From the 1920s through 1941, convict leasing was gradually eliminated through state laws and by presidential executive order. The constitutional loophole, however, was never removed.

In states such as Colorado that echo that loophole, as incredible as it may seem, slavery and involuntary servitude may not be fully unconstitutional. While of course we would hope our legislature and courts and correctional institutions would never allow it, it would not necessarily violate our constitution for prisoners to be bought and sold for slave labor by public or private prisons, or even put on the auction block and sold as slaves to the highest bidder, as long as it could be defined as a punishment for crime. We may think that could never happen, but in the context of today’s national politics, it is hard to feel comforted just by an assumption that something will never happen.

Slavery is not a Colorado value, and it should not even be a possibility under the Colorado Constitution. Colorado voters had the opportunity to make this change two years ago through 2016’s Amendment T, but the title and description of that amendment were confusing (“End Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition”—at least a triple negative) and it barely failed by less than one percent of the vote. Surely Colorado voters did not intend to affirm slavery, but we will find out in November, because this time there is no excuse. “Prohibit Slavery and Involuntary Servitude in All Circumstances” is much less confusing, and it should be clear that a Yes vote on Amendment A is a vote to Abolish constitutional slavery in Colorado once and for all.

While some concerns were also raised in 2016 about prison work or service programs, it should be clear that desirable work programs or programs that people convicted of crimes agree to take part in would not be affected because they would not constitute involuntary servitude or slavery. Whatever our corrections system may be, even in areas where there is legitimate debate, we should all agree that it should never consist of actual slavery or involuntary servitude. Amendment A is a truly bipartisan measure that was passed unanimously by all Republicans and all Democrats in the Colorado legislature. It is more than a symbolic measure, because it closes the door on the possibility of future abuses, and it also sends a positive message in a time of great division in our nation. It recognizes the horror and suffering of those who have been enslaved in this nation, and it honors the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Silas Soule, Sojourner Truth, and thousands of others who fought and died for the abolition of slavery. Let’s get it right this time—vote Yes on Amendment A.

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