DENVER – In an ad launched today, local NFL professional athletes have teamed up with ACLU of Colorado, urging Governor Jared Polis to use his clemency powers to safely release medically vulnerable people from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ad is part of the launch of Colorado’s Redemption Campaign, a statewide initiative to liberate thousands of people who pose no public safety risk from Colorado prisons by challenging Governor Polis to use existing clemency powers in new and transformational ways. Founding organizational partners of the Colorado Redemption Campaign include Second Chance Center, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Colorado’s Office of the State Public Defender, The Powell Project and ACLU of Colorado.
Justin Simmons, Alexander Johnson and De’Vante Bausby, activists and NFL professional athletes for the Denver Broncos, joined the campaign to highlight the racial inequities of mass incarceration and the critical need for change — especially by Governor Polis.
“Today a Black person has a one-in-three chance of ending up in prison,” Simmons said in the broadcast ad. “For us, that would be like losing 19 members of our football team. That would be a major loss for us just as it is for our communities.”
Simmons’ comments underscore the critical need for Governor Polis to intervene in order to save lives and undo decades of massive and ineffective carceral growth in our state. Due in part to the failed war on drugs, draconian sentencing ranges, and so-called “habitual offender” laws that disproportionately target Black and Brown communities and people experiencing poverty, we have packed our prisons at an alarming rate. Colorado now has a higher incarceration rate than any country in the world — more than Canada, France and the United Kingdom combined. These misguided policies cost families, communities and taxpayers dearly. In 2020, the Colorado Department of Corrections budget approached one billion dollars. In the process, families and communities, particularly communities of color, have been decimated.
“We are either a nation of ‘we the people’ or ‘we the prisons’ — we can’t be both,” Johnson said.
With a pandemic, the costs have been catastrophic and the governor’s part paramount. More than 50% of people incarcerated in prisons have been infected. There have been more than 7,000 total positive COVID-19 cases among incarcerated people, with almost 700 active cases and 25 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Over 500 prison staff have become infected, leaving rural, prison communities struggling to meet medical needs. With limited access to personal protective equipment, adequate testing and an inability to practice social distancing, incarcerated people have had little defense against the deadly virus. Many governors across the country recognized this emergency and exercised their clemency powers to safely release hundreds of vulnerable people from prisons. Washington Governor Jay Inslee released over 1,000 people. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear released 900 people. Yet, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has released only four people.
The Broncos athletes and the Colorado Redemption Campaign call on Governor Polis to do more — to boldly exercise his clemency powers to undo the harms of mass incarceration and champion racial justice in Colorado.
“Governor Polis, you have the clemency powers to save lives and define what redemption looks like in our state,” said Bausby in the ad.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.