Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Penalties Harsher For Blacks In El Paso County

Gazette - Black people in El Paso County are seven times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug crimes, according to a recent study.

Despite similar rates of illegal drug use among blacks and whites nationwide, more blacks wind up in prison for it, according to the study by the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, which supports policies to reduce the number of people sent to prison.

The disparity is greater in other parts of the country. Na- tionwide, blacks are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.

Who’s to blame for the disparity is unclear, but the researchers said poverty, unemployment and government spending on law enforcement are factors that combine to usher more blacks into prison.

Judges are responsible for sentencing criminals, although they must follow guidelines in the state law. Kirk Samelson, chief judge of the 4th Judicial District, which includes El Paso County, said Friday that he couldn’t discuss the findings because he hadn’t read the study.

Sentences are also based on recommendations from district attorneys, defense lawyers and reports compiled by probation officers. Deputy District Attorney Denise Minish said the study doesn’t provide enough information to judge whether there’s a disparity between blacks and whites because it doesn’t examine the factors that led to prison sentences. Prosecutors consider a defendant’s criminal history and the severity of a crime when they recommend sentences, she said.
“We do not look at a person’s race,” she said. “It’s irrelevant.”

The study, issued last month, compared 2002 imprisonment rates for blacks and whites in 198 U.S. counties with populations of at least 250,000. The imprisonment data came from the National Corrections Reporting Program, a project of the Department of Justice. There were 227 counties with populations of at least a quarter-million in 2002, but imprisonment data was available for only 198 of them, including seven in Colorado.

In 193 of the counties, blacks were more likely than whites to be sent to a state prison in drug cases.

The findings on drug crimes reflect a broader problem with racial minorities being imprisoned at higher rates than white people, said Rosemary Harris, president of the Colorado Springs branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.