The United States incarcerates 22% of the world’s prisoners — the highest rate in the world, and disproportionately comprising people of color. African Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of the white population, while the Latinx community makes up 23% of inmates. Furthermore, about one in 14 Americans grows up with a parent in prison, tearing families apart at a particularly vulnerable time. For too many, the criminal justice system is anything but just, rooted in racism and inequality. Reform is essential to ensuring that both public safety and social equality are protected.
Ten years before Ferguson, as Mayor of Denver, I worked with the Denver Ministerial Alliance to reduce lethal force and bias in policing. We hired a dedicated staff member to expand the diversity of the Denver Police Department (DPS) and established a Citizen Oversight Board and Office of Independent Monitor to oversee police conduct. Furthermore, we made it easier to discipline officers who crossed the line. We provided patrol officers with crisis de-escalation training and defense tools to reduce the use of force across the board.
When I was Governor of Colorado, we changed sentencing guidelines for drug crimes to focus on rehabilitation and treatment, giving prosecutors options beyond jail time. We also closed two prisons, transforming one property into a center for the homeless that continues to provide housing, counseling, and health care to this day. Finally, we implemented the legalization of marijuana, bringing us closer to ending the discriminatory War on Drugs in Colorado.
In the Senate, I would continue to focus on reforming our broken criminal justice system. We must end the dehumanizing practice of solitary confinement. We need to explore policies that reduce the likelihood of people returning to prison upon release. Not only will doing so help people get a second chance at life, but it will also save taxpayer money in the long term. We can reform our justice system by sealing records for nonviolent marijuana convictions and extending voting rights to people who have completed their sentences and are looking for a second chance and a new life.