In the wake of groundbreaking new research into Colorado’s skyrocketing crime, Gazette editor-in-chief Vince Bzdek’s Sunday column highlights one of the most significant findings. In particular, putting criminals behind bars makes our communities safer. And not doing so put us in danger.
You would think that would go without saying. Yet, as the Common Sense Institute’s bestselling study published last week points out, Colorado policymakers have ignored this simple logic for years. We are all now reaping what they sowed.
The study not only counted the surge in violent and state property crime over the past decade, but it also reaffirmed the fundamental link between incarceration and public safety. The study found that the number of convicts behind bars in Colorado jails fell 23% from 2008 to this year, while the total number of crimes per year has skyrocketed by 47%.
Along with this finding, the report tracked the use of “personal recognizance” bonds allowing criminal suspects to be released from jail without bail in Denver, one of the state’s largest judicial districts. Bond usage has jumped 61% over the past two years. He created a revolving door that leads from arrest to the street. It’s no surprise that, as the Common Sense study also found, Colorado’s repeat offender rate ranks our state in the top five in the country.
The Gazette’s Bzdek cites a major study from the 1990s by renowned University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. He focused on the most effective measures taken by policymakers across the country in the wake of the last big wave of crime. Among the measures that have had the most impact, according to Levitt, have put more police on the streets – and more convicts in jail. Not only was a higher percentage of offenders taken off the streets than in Colorado today, but also the increased threat of punishment was a deterrent for criminals.
Colorado has done the opposite and is paying the price.
As Bzdek also notes in his column, an unintended consequence of the move back to prison has been that more people of color – mostly young black and Hispanic men – have been jailed. The so-called “justice reform” movement has decried this development, and it has been a primary motivation for their efforts, and those of the ruling Democrats on Capitol Hill, to reduce the prison population.
The role of race and ethnicity in crime in Colorado and the United States in general has always been complex. Different racial and ethnic groups have been disproportionately incarcerated, whether by design or by default, throughout the history of the United States.
What future justice reformers fail to recognize today is that people of color in Colorado and elsewhere are also disproportionately victimized by crime. Just one clue: As of 2019, 54.7% of all homicide victims in the United States were black. Blacks make up only 13.4% of the American population. It is an imbalance which calls for a real reform, that is to say a return to public order.
People of color in Colorado should not be expected to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of crime on society. They and the rest of Colorado deserve justice. Let’s start by putting more criminals behind bars, where they belong.
Denver Gazette Editorial Board