African-American men and women in Colorado were arrested at disproportionate rates last year and were more likely to be sentenced to prison than any other racial group, according to a first-of-its kind report by the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
The report, released Thursday, revealed that while Black Americans make up just 4.2 percent of the state’s total population, they accounted for over 12 percent of all arrests and criminal summonses — which is almost three times their rate of the population. Most of these arrests and citations were for serious crimes such as homicides, assaults and robberies.
The department of public safety’s analysis was the result of a new law requiring the state to examine data from law enforcement agencies based on race, gender and ethnicity, according to The Coloradoan. The department pored over 325,000 arrests, summonses, court filings and parole board decisions to get a better idea of how race plays a role in the way individuals enter the criminal justice system.
Social justice activists said the report was long overdue and needed, especially during a time when police shootings of African-American men have become all-too common and tensions between Black communities and law enforcement are at an all-time high.
“Communities of color for a long time have felt that they are stopped and arrested more than others,” Denise Maes, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Colorado branch, told Raw Story in a telephone interview.
In addition to disparities in arrests, the report also revealed that Black juveniles were more likely to be sentenced to youth corrections facilities than their white and Latino counterparts. Overall, Black Americans were sentenced to prison by the state’s district courts 24.9 percent of the time, while whites and Latinos were sentenced 17.7 and 16.9 percent of the time, respectively.
“It’s amazing to me and it’s very scary [and] sad that while they are sentenced to prison, whites are sentenced to deferred sentences or probation,” Maes said. “We have such a problem of having sent so many Black men to prison in Colorado, and we are continuing to do it.”
Moreover, the report found that whites and Asians also were more likely to be released early by a parole board compared to Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, and that women were more likely than men to be handed a delayed judgement rather than receive a prison sentence.
While many are glad that the report is shedding light on racial disparities within Colorado’s criminal justice system, observers say a deeper analysis of the department’s findings are needed to really grasp what the data is saying. This is especially important as the state works to implement effective changes that will hopefully rectify the racial disparities.
“We need to drill down a little further and be analytic and strategic about what these statistics are showing us,” state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, told the Denver Post. “It can show us what legislative action might be necessary, what training might be necessary.
“I think we just need to study the results and see where that drives the next steps,” she added. “I think data drives informed decisions.”
The Colorado DPS noted that its report relied solely on statistical data provided by law enforcement, judiciary and parole board agencies across the state and did not explore the reasoning behind the stark disparities.