Feb 17, 2023 - News

Racial disparities pervade Colorado's criminal justice system

Illustration of a hand resting on a jail fence.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A "first-in-the-nation" project tracking racial disparities across eight Colorado district attorneys' offices is revealing inequities when it comes to how Black and Hispanic people are prosecuted.

Driving the news: Researchers from the University of Denver released new reports this week based on more than 300,000 cases filed and resolved between 2017 and 2022. It comes as part of the Colorado Prosecutorial Dashboards project, which launched last September.

  • The reports show Hispanic and Black people were arrested at a disproportionately high rate compared to their statewide population.
  • The latest data also suggests a higher percentage of cases involving Hispanic people resulted in guilty pleas.

Zoom in: In Denver, 57% of white defendants were likely to have their sentences reduced compared to 48% of Black defendants and 52% of Hispanic individuals.

  • About 25% of cases referred to Denver's DA have a Black defendant, despite just 9% of the city's population identifying as Black.

What they're saying: "Although we constantly monitor our data, as a system, we can and should do better to ensure equity," Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement Wednesday.

  • "A lot of the data … is exactly what you would expect for any jurisdiction in the United States," Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty told the Denver Post. "The difference is here in Colorado we are pulling the curtain back and actually doing something about it ourselves."

What's next: The eight participating DA offices plan to further analyze the data and address inequities, including requiring additional staff training and improving diversion programs.


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