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The cost of incarceration
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Colorado has an incarceration rate of 614 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Colorado and why.

31,000 people from Colorado are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 35,000 Colorado residents are locked up in federal prisons, state prisons, local jails and other types of facilities

Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in Colorado is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 87,000 different people are booked into local jails in Colorado.

Using 2020 census data, we looked at where people in Colorado prisons come from. We found most people in prison come from the state's largest cities, but many of its smallest communities are disproportionately harmed, too.

Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years

graph showing the number of people in state prison and local jails per 100,000 residents in Colorado from 1978 to 2015 Also see these Colorado graphs:

Graph showing the number of people in Colorado jails who were convicted and the number who were unconvicted, for the years 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1999, 2005, and 2013.

Today, Colorado’s incarceration rates stand out internationally

graphic comparing the incarceration rates of the founding NATO members with the incarceration rates of the United States and the state of Colorado. The incarceration rate of 664 per 100,000 for the United States and 614 for Colorado is much higher than any of the founding NATO members In the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.

People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails

2010 graph showing incarceration rates per 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic groups in Colorado

racial and ethnic disparities between the prison/jail and general population in CO as of 2010

See also our detailed graphs about Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, and American Indians/Native Americans in Colorado prisons and jails.

Colorado's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails

Pie chart showing that 124,000 Colorado residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole

The high cost of being incarcerated in Colorado

Prisons and jails in Colorado are increasingly shifting the cost of incarceration to people behind bars and their families, hiding the true economic costs of mass incarceration:

Our other articles about Colorado

Data on COVID-19 in Colorado jails and prisons

We gave Colorado a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:

  • Colorado is one of 13 states that did not explicitly mention incarcerated people in their vaccination rollout plan.
  • Colorado failed to utilize one of the most obvious, and easiest, tools for reducing the prison population — stopping prison admissions for technical violations of probation and parole (which are not crimes).

For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:

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