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How Many Prisoners Are In Colorado?

The state of Colorado currently has around 20,000 people incarcerated in its prison system. This prison population has steadily increased over the past few decades, leading to overcrowding issues and calls for criminal justice reform. In this article, we will analyze the latest data on Colorado’s prisons and prisoners, examine the factors driving the growth, and look at potential solutions.

Total Incarcerated in Colorado Prisons

According to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Corrections, there are currently 19,831 individuals incarcerated in the state’s prisons as of September 2022. This includes 17,778 male prisoners and 2,053 female prisoners distributed across 22 state facilities.

Over the past 40 years, Colorado’s prison population has quadrupled in size. In 1980, there were just over 4,000 individuals incarcerated. The prison population first topped 10,000 in 1994 and has steadily risen in the decades since.

Several factors have contributed to the growth, which we will explore in more detail throughout this article. But the end result is a prison system now bursting at the seams. Facilities are over capacity, bunks are doubled and tripled, and solitary confinement cells are being utilized.

Breakdown of Prison Population by Demographics

To fully understand the state of Colorado’s prisons, it is important to analyze the demographic breakdown of the current inmate population. This data reveals discrepancies in how different groups are incarcerated.

By Age

  • 25 years or younger: 10%
  • 26-35 years: 30%
  • 36-55 years: 43%
  • 56 years or older: 17%

The largest segment of prisoners are between the ages of 36-55, in the middle of their adult lives. However, a significant portion are young, between 18-25 years old. This indicates many inmates are being sent to prison early in life.

By Race

  • White: 51%
  • Hispanic: 29%
  • Black: 19%
  • Other: 1%

Looking at racial demographics, whites make up just over half of the prison population. But Hispanics and blacks are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates compared to their share of the total Colorado population.

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By Gender

  • Male: 90%
  • Female: 10%

The vast majority of Colorado prisoners are male. This is on par with national trends of men facing higher incarceration rates than women.

By Type of Offense

  • Violent offenses: 31%
  • Property offenses: 29%
  • Drug offenses: 19%
  • Other: 21%

There is a relatively even three-way split between violent crimes, property crimes, and drug offenses. Though drug convictions make up a smaller portion than some may assume.

Key Factors Driving Prison Population Growth

Now that we have an overview of who is incarcerated in Colorado, let’s examine some of the key factors that have led to the rapid expansion of the prison system since the 1980s.

Stricter Sentencing Laws

One of the primary drivers has been stricter sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums for certain offenses. Harsher sentences for things like drug and repeat offenses have kept more people locked up for longer.

For example, Colorado’s crime of violence statute imposes lengthy automatic sentences for certain violent crimes. Even low-level accomplices can face decades behind bars.

War on Drugs

The nationwide push to get tough on drugs impacted Colorado as well. While drug offenses make up a smaller portion of convictions than some states, the sentences can still be severe. Possession of just a few grams of drugs like heroin or meth can result in 8-16 years in prison.

Reduction in Parole Grants

Many experts point to reductions in parole grants over the past few decades as a major driver of increased incarceration. Harsher parole board policies and attitudes have reduced release rates and kept the inmate population high.

Prison Population Forecasts

Based on current policies and trends, Colorado’s prison population is expected to keep slowly increasing over the next decade. The Department of Corrections estimates it will reach around 23,000 inmates by 2028 unless significant reforms are made. This continued growth would exacerbate strained prison resources.

Impacts of Overcrowded Prisons

With prisons filled beyond capacity, Colorado’s corrections system faces considerable challenges. The effects of overcrowding permeate throughout facilities.

Health and Safety Risks

Cramped conditions heighten risks of inmate illness and violence. Controlling infectious outbreaks is difficult. And tensions flare more readily with limited space. Assaults, riots, and psychiatric incidents have all been on the rise in recent years.

Strained Resources

Overcrowded prisons stretch resources thin for vital services like healthcare, food services, programming, and parole management. This can reduce rehabilitation efforts and increase recidivism rates when inmates fail to transition smoothly back into society.

Staff Burnout

Managing large, crowded facilities takes a toll on prison staff as well. Constant demands lead to fatigue, stress, and burnout. This contributes to staff shortages and turnover, further challenging prison operations.

Legal Obligations

Several lawsuits have been filed alleging Colorado’s overcrowded prisons represent cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the 8th Amendment. While so far unsuccessful, these suits suggest potential constitutional issues with current conditions.

Reform Efforts to Reduce Prison Population

In light of the growth and overcrowding issues facing Colorado’s prisons, both state officials and advocacy groups have undertaken reform efforts aimed at reducing the incarcerated population.

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Legislative Changes

Lawmakers have passed several bills in recent years to relax sentencing for certain crimes and expand parole eligibility. For example, legislators reduced drug possession thresholds for felonies and made it easier for some inmates to earn time credits towards early release.

Supporting Reentry

Government agencies and non-profits are expanding reentry programs to help inmates successfully transition back into society. These services, like educational classes and job training, are proven to reduce recidivism rates.

Addressing Mental Health

Since mental health issues contribute heavily to incarceration, programs to improve mental health treatment access could reduce crime. Colorado is spending more on community-based behavioral health services as an alternative to prison.

Drug Sentencing Reform

Reducing harsh mandatory minimums for drug offenses is seen as a way to quickly lower the prison population. Several pending bills aim to ease sentences for low-level possession charges.

Curbing Parole Revocations

Limiting parole revocations for minor violations through reforms is another strategy. Revoking parole sends people back to prison unnecessarily.

While meaningful progress has been made, most agree that more reforms are still needed for Colorado to right-size its prison system and address the root causes of mass incarceration.

Case Study: Notable Colorado Inmate – Kelsey Berreth Murder

To illustrate some of the real-life crimes and convictions behind Colorado’s thousands of prisoners, let’s examine a recent high-profile murder case.

The Crime

In November 2018, 29-year-old flight instructor Kelsey Berreth went missing in Woodland Park, Colorado. Over the next few months, a complex investigation unfolded into her disappearance involving a love triangle and custody battle.

In February 2019, Berreth’s fiancé Patrick Frazee was arrested and charged with her murder. Evidence showed Frazee had beaten Berreth to death with a baseball bat and burned her remains on his ranch.

The Trial & Conviction

At Frazee’s trial in late 2019, more shocking details emerged. An ex-girlfriend named Krystal Lee testified that Frazee had asked her to help kill Berreth.

While Lee did not physically harm Berreth, she cleaned up the murder scene and watched as Frazee burned the body. Frazee was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lee cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to evidence tampering. She received a 3 year prison sentence.

Impact on Colorado’s Prisons

The Frazee case provides an inside look at how violent crimes like murder end up adding to Colorado’s rising prisoner count each year. It also highlights issues like domestic violence that often link back to incarceration.

While Frazee will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, Lee could be released in just a few years due to her limited role and cooperation with authorities. This exemplifies how sentence lengths can vary widely even for the same crime.

A Look at 5 Key Statistics on Colorado’s Prison System

To summarize some of the key data points analyzed in this article, here are 5 key statistics on prisons and incarceration in Colorado:

  • There are currently about 20,000 people incarcerated in Colorado’s prisons.
  • The prison population has quadrupled since 1980, with around 4,000 inmates 40 years ago.
  • About 1 in 5 prisoners in Colorado are incarcerated for drug offenses.
  • The Colorado prison population is projected to grow to 23,000 inmates by 2028 if current trends continue.
  • Colorado has a higher racial disparity in incarceration compared to the overall state population.
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These figures underscore both the scale of incarceration and the pressing challenges facing the Colorado corrections system today. Reforms will be needed to reverse decades of prison expansion.

Table: Notable Colorado Crimes and Convictions

CrimeDateConvictionSentence
Aurora Movie Theater ShootingJuly 2012James Holmes – First degree murder, attempted murderLife without parole +3,318 years
Westminster Family MurdersFebruary 1984Steven Curtis – First degree murderThree death sentences
Kidnapping of Jonelle MatthewsDecember 1984Steve Pankey – MurderLife without parole
Murder of Jessica RidgewayOctober 2012Austin Sigg – First degree murderLife without parole + 86 years
Columbine High School MassacreApril 1999None – Perpetrators committed suicideN/A

How many prisons are in Colorado?

Currently there are 22 state-run prison facilities located throughout Colorado. This includes correctional facilities of varying security levels, work release programs, and inmate camps. There are no federal facilities or private prisons.

What is the largest prison in Colorado?

The largest state prison is the Fremont Correctional Facility, located in Cañon City, CO. It has a capacity to house over 3,000 inmates making it one of the biggest prisons in the region.

What is the average prison sentence in Colorado?

The average prison sentence handed out by Colorado courts is 90 months or 7.5 years. However, this varies widely based on the type and severity of the offense. Some sentences can be just a year or two while violent crimes carry sentences of decades or life.

What is the Colorado Department of Corrections budget?

For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the CDOC has a total budget of over $900 million. Roughly 20% of the state’s General Fund goes to the corrections department for prison operations and parole management.

How does Colorado compare nationally on incarceration?

Colorado has one of the lower incarceration rates in the U.S., ranking 48th among states. It has 289 prisoners per 100,000 residents compared to over 600 per 100,000 in states like Louisiana. However, its prison rate remains much higher than most other nations.

Conclusion: Opportunities for Reform

In conclusion, Colorado’s prison system faces considerable challenges today. Decades of stricter sentencing and unsustainable incarceration growth have led to overcrowding, strained resources, and poor outcomes.

Meaningful reforms to sentencing guidelines, drug laws, parole policies, reentry programs, and mental health treatment will be needed to reverse mass incarceration trends. Colorado has already undertaken some promising efforts on this front. But more work remains to fix the systemic issues in the criminal justice system that drive high imprisonment.

With smart reforms centered on rehabilitation over retribution, Colorado can work to right-size its prisons, improve public safety, and promote a more just society. There are opportunities to strengthen communities, support victims, hold offenders accountable, and end the cycles of recidivism. Finding the right solutions will require bold leadership and a willingness to think differently about how we respond to crime in our communities.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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