DENVER — Yesterday, Governor Jared Polis granted commutations to three people including Ronald Johnson and Rogel Aguilera-Mederos. The Governor additionally granted 1,351 pardons to people with convictions related to the possession of marijuana.
The following statement can be attributed to Deborah Richardson, ACLU of Colorado Executive Director.
“The ACLU of Colorado applauds Governor Polis for acting decisively on Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ case, as well as providing relief to Mr. Johnson and other individuals who received commutations or pardons. Extremely harsh prison sentences do not make us safer, are imposed disproportionately on Black and Brown communities, and waste taxpayer dollars.
But let us be clear: cases like these are not anomalies, they are an all-too-common consequence of decades of racially unjust “tough-on-crime” policies and mass incarceration. These cases call on us to also address the root causes that led to these sentences in the first place — like Colorado’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws — as well as looking categorically at other people who are serving extremely harsh sentences at enormous expense to taxpayers, pose no danger, and who could be safely returned to their families and the community.”
Ronald Johnson, a 64-year-old grandfather who turned his life around in prison will be released after serving more than 20 years of a 96-year sentence for nonviolent offenses. Mr. Johnson’s age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracted COVID-19 in prison. Instead, he will now safely rejoin his community, family and daughter, Amber Johnson, in Arkansas.
The case of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos gained national attention after he received a 110-year sentence for a tragic traffic accident that killed four people and injured many more. ACLU of Colorado joined the call for Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence to be reconsidered and pointed to the need for long-term systemic changes including eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and ensuring prosecutors end the practice of bringing excessively harsh charges to leverage plea bargains that can result in death-in-prison sentences.
Key facts and other links:
- Earlier this year, ACLU of Colorado and NFL professional athletes collaborated on a year-long Redemption Campaign urging Governor Polis to use his clemency powers, including airing television ads featuring Denver Broncos players.
- Colorado has a state prison budget that nears $1 billion annually.
- Voters, members of the law enforcement community, and survivors of crime are united in their support for increased use of clemency.