DENVER (KDVR) — New anti-drug measures should keep Colorado’s corrections system at its current low levels of drug offenders.
The Colorado Senate approved a bill Friday that, among other actions, would make it a felony to possess more than 1 gram of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The felony would not be prison eligible. Potentially, this could dampen fears that the new bill is a return to the war on drugs policy that would criminalize addiction and pack prisons with nonviolent drug offenders.
Colorado’s arrests and imprisonments of drug offenders have been declining for the last 10 years.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics keeps records of each state’s prison population. It groups populations into sections based on the most serious charge with which inmates were sentenced.
The number of inmates sentenced for drug crimes has been dropping for 15 years. Colorado’s prisons had nearly 4,500 such inmates in 2006. By 2019, that had shrunk to 1,560.
In the early 2000s, about one in five prisoners were there for drug crimes. In 2019, about one in 12 were.
The slimmer number of drug inmates corresponds to a drop in arrests at the street level.
The statewide rate of drug crime arrests has plummeted since 2000. There were 551 drug arrests for every 100,000 Coloradans in 2000. In 2020, there were 203.
Except for Gilpin County, all counties in the Denver metro area have seen drug arrest rates drop. Between 2000 and 2020, drug arrest rates dropped between 35% and 100%.
Some of this can be explained by COVID policies that deprioritized certain crimes in order to thin out jails and correctional centers as a public health measure.