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.

With Colorado’s Corrections Budget Nearing $1 Billion, Advocates Urge State Lawmakers to Explore Alternatives to Opening Another Prison

December 19, 2018

Ahead of Joint Budget Committee’s Thursday briefing on proposed DOC budget—which includes nearly $40 million for prison expansion—ACLU of Colorado and CCJRC release memo warning of ‘significantly overestimated’ prison population growth projections

DENVER — As Colorado’s corrections budget nears $1 billion, criminal justice reform advocates are urging state lawmakers to explore alternatives to opening another prison in the state.

In a memo released Wednesday, ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition warn that state officials’ projections for prison population growth are “significantly overestimated” and highlights several steps the state can take to manage its prison population without opening another prison.

The Joint Budget Committee is scheduled to hold a briefing Thursday on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed fiscal year 2019-20 budget for the Department of Corrections, which includes nearly $40 million for prison expansion. Specifically, it includes $27.8 million to reopen Colorado State Penitentiary II (CSP II) and an additional $11 million to remodel and repurpose the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC) and CSP II for the purposes of swapping the functions of both prisons.

The request to reopen CSP II stems from DOC’s desire to maintain at least a 2 percent vacancy rate to account for potential growth in the state’s prison population. As of November, the vacancy rate for male prison beds was 1.2 percent. This equates to a shortfall of only 75 prison beds, according to the ACLU-CCJRC memo, which notes it would take just a small decline in the prison population to cover. The memo also points out there are currently unused beds in community corrections that have been funded to help people transition after release from prison, which could be utilized to achieve the desired 2 percent vacancy rate.

“Instead of reopening a prison and supporting a $1 billion DOC budget that results in a 50-percent recidivism rate, the state should take proactive steps to reduce its prison population,” said ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director Denise Maes. “It is critical that all Coloradans demand prosecutorial reform and that their legislators advance sentencing reform. Otherwise, Coloradans will be paying the tab for new prisons for generations to come.”

Legislators rejected the reopening of CSP II three times during the 2018 session, opting instead to pass legislation aimed at improving the state’s parole and community corrections systems, as well as its management of the prison population. As the ACLU-CCJRC memo notes, these measures are in early stages of implementation and have yet to achieve their maximum potential.

ACLU of Colorado and CCJRC say efforts to reopen CSP II are being driven largely by a prison population projection that is “significantly overestimated.” The projection, which was conducted by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), estimated the state’s population would grow by approximately 1,000 inmates in FY18-19. However, these projections have not turned out to be reliable, and the prison population has actually declined by an average of 13 people per month since the beginning of the fiscal year.

“Opening another prison is neither fiscally prudent nor necessary to address prison capacity in Colorado,” said CCJRC Executive Director Christie Donner. “There are several ways the state could safely reduce the prison population without breaking the bank. We sincerely hope lawmakers will take a good, long look at all the options before throwing tens of millions of dollars at a solution in search of a problem.”

The memo includes a list of actions the General Assembly and criminal justice agencies can take to safely reduce the prison population, including adjustments to the parole system, full implementation of previously approved legislation, and reducing the crime classification for simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.


Read the full ACLU-CCJRC memo at:

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