ACLU of Colorado files emergency order to reduce inmate population due to COVID-19

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DENVER (KDVR) — The ACLU of Colorado has filed an emergency order to reduce Colorado’s inmate population due to COVID-19.

Since Sunday, four inmates have died due to COVID-19 inside Colorado correctional facilities.

Currently, more than 1,558 of Colorado’s 14,083 inmates have COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Those numbers have families with loved ones in the prison system growing concerned. 

Amber Johnson’s father, Ronald Johnson, has been incarcerated in Denver for 22 years for a combination of theft and fraud charges. 

He hasn’t contracted COVID-19, but Amber worries the 63-year-old with asthma would be in trouble if he did. 

“I don’t know that he’d be able to get the care that he needs.” she says. “I really feel like the odds are stacked up against him pretty significantly.”

Johnson says she hasn’t seen her father since February, when in-person inmate visitation was cut off. 

“To think that the last time we hugged him in February, could be the last time, is a really sobering and real reality.”

Under the request filed by the ACLU, Johnson and other non-violent offenders, considered high-risk for COVID, would be released.

“We’re asking the court to tell the governor to use your powers and use your authority to do what’s needed to reduce the risk to the prisoners who are at elevated risk if they contract COVID-19,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

“Prisoners are packed together, they can’t social distance,” says Silverstein. “It’s urgent that the governor do something to reduce the population.”

Silverstein is quick to point out only non-violent offenders would be eligible for release under their request. He says it would be up to the state to decide how many. 

“Any reduction is helpful. More reduction is more helpful,” he says. “We’re talking about releasing people who, if released, will not pose a threat to public safety.”

A spokesperson for the DOC referred us to the governor’s office for comment. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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