Colorado DA George Brauchler explains ‘Mass incarceration is a myth’ tweet


Colorado’s most high-profile district attorney, George Brauchler, has put the phrase “mass incarceration” on trial in the court of public opinion. 

The conservative prosecutor who represents the 18th Judicial District south of Denver, tweeted this on April 29:

Brauchler is the president of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.

His tweet came in response to an opinion piece in Revolt, a music publication, headlined “Pushing Our Elected Officials To Take Action On Criminal Justice Reform,” by a Dallas attorney whose mother had been incarcerated.

It didn’t take long for responses to Brauchler’s posting to start rolling in, some of them brutal.

For his part, Brauchler, whose profile heightened last year when he prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting trial and was briefly courted to run for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, says his tweet was “inartful.”

“My point in that tweet was not to suggest that we don’t have people serving too harsh of sentences for nonviolent drug crimes,” he told The Colorado Independent. “I’m in favor of criminal justice reform, and in fact I think Colorado has been on the front end of this at the state level.”

So what did he mean?

Here’s the more-than-140-character version:

“My point in sending out that tweet, as inartful as it apparently was, was to reject what I think this movement has become, and that is a vehicle for people who are anti-police, anti-prosecutor, and anti courts, to shift the blame away from them and onto individual responsibility that got those people in trouble in the first place.”

That explanation wasn’t enough for at least one member of the Black Lives Matter movement in Colorado – one that has been depicted by some, including former Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz, as being anti-police.

“I’m trying to think of a nicer way to put it that you can print other than ‘bullshit,’” said Roshan Bliss, who is also a member of the Denver Justice Project.

Bliss says plenty of people in American jail cells did have their own due process and did have individual lawyers. But, he points out, those lawyers were likely public defenders, government attorneys who are notoriously underpaid and overworked.

“The DA can say whatever he wants but it doesn’t [change] the fact that the U.S. is currently incarcerating more people at a higher portion of its population than any nation,” Bliss says. “There’s nothing mythical about that.”

This isn’t the first time Brauchler’s use of Twitter has led reporters to hit him up for comment or write stories about it. During the theater shooting trial last year, a judge reprimanded him for tweeting while a witness for the defense was on the stand. Brauchler says he thought he was responding to a text message.

He says he didn’t expect the responses he got from his latest tweet about mass incarceration.

Did he learn anything from it?

“Whatever skills I thought I had in communicating, they don’t translate into 140 character tweets,” he says.

Brauchler used the opportunity to clarify: He’s for programs that divert criminals from prison. He points to his district’s drug treatment court, which tries to treat offenders instead of locking them up in jail. He said he’d call his juvenile diversion program the best in the state. His office, he says, is in the early stages of developing an adult diversion program to keep people out of the court system entirely.

“I am not in favor of locking up everybody for every little thing,” he said. But he added: “I am in favor of personal responsibility.”

Brauchler’s twitter feed has made it into news coverage for other reasons. He’s not shy about using the platform to call out those with whom he disagrees.

Did he go too far this time?

Says the prosecutor: “It’s probably not going to be the last time I think I’ve made a good point and it turns out I was woefully wrong.”


[Photo credit: Shawn Campbell via Creative Commons on Flickr]


  1. The extent that the Colorado Independent will go to defend liberal dogma is nothing short of astounding.

    So when a tweet (that’s right, a tweet) challenged so-called “mass incarceration” the CI response was quick and devastating. OK, well, it was quick.

    And it wasn’t entirely because so-called “mass incarceration” was being challenged it was being challenged by (gasp!) George Brauchler “Colorado’s most high-profile district attorney” and a Republican. And if there’s one thing the CI dislikes more than objectivity it’s a high-profile Republican district attorney calling “mass incarcerations” a myth.

    So the CI called in the big guns to counter Brauchler’s outrageous claim: three snarky tweets and one member of the Black Lives Matter movement Roshan Bliss.

    Al Sharpton must have been unavailable.

    Bliss eloquently termed Brauchler’s assertion BS (no, not Bernie Sanders). He went on to claim many accused criminals were represented in court by “public defenders, government attorneys who are notoriously underpaid and overworked.” and to back up that claim the CI referenced John Oliver, a British comedian.

    John Cleese must have been unavailable.

    The CI embraces so-called “mass incarceration” because they want readers to believe that racism is the root cause. It’s the new Jim Crow. Anything challenging that belief has to be confronted to protect the CI’s street cred. Such as it is.

    Here are some contrary observations that were ignored in the mass incarceration discussion. Ignoring inconvenient facts is a theme seen throughout the Colorado Independent. This from the Foundation for Economic Education:

    “Nations like China and Russia likely use more corporal punishment and execute more people. Removing that context from their incarceration rates might make them look less punitive than they really are.

    Contemporary prison growth has been a relatively global phenomenon. From 1997 through 2007, prison populations grew in 68 percent of nations researched around the world. Developed, Western nations have led this growth in incarceration rate.”

    This from the Wall Street Journal:

    “It has become a boogeyman in public discourse: “mass incarceration.” Both left and right, from Hillary Clinton to Rand Paul, agree that it must be ended. But a close examination of the data shows that U.S. imprisonment has been driven largely by violent crime—and thus significantly reducing incarceration may be impossible.

    There’s a lot of historical amnesia about the cause of prison expansion, a mistaken sense that it was all about drugs or race and had very little to do with serious crime. This ignores the facts. Between 1960 and 1990, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. surged by over 350%, according to FBI data, the biggest sustained buildup in the country’s history.

    One major reason was that as crime rose the criminal-justice system caved. Prison commitments fell, as did time served per conviction. For every 1,000 arrests for serious crimes in 1970, 170 defendants went to prison, compared with 261 defendants five years earlier. Murderers released in 1960 had served a median 4.3 years, which wasn’t long to begin with. By 1970 that figure had dropped to 3.5 years.

    Relatively few prisoners today are locked up for drug offenses. At the end of 2013 the state prison population was about 1.3 million. Fifty-three percent were serving time for violent crimes such as murder, robbery, rape or aggravated assault, according to the BJS. Nineteen percent were in for property crimes such as burglary, car theft or fraud. Another 11% had been convicted of weapons offenses, drunken driving or other public-order violations.

    That leaves about 16%, or 208,000 people, incarcerated for drug crimes. Of those, less than a quarter were in for mere possession. The rest were in for trafficking and other crimes. Critics of “mass incarceration” often point to the federal prisons, where half of inmates, or about 96,000 people, are drug offenders. But 99.5% of them are traffickers. The notion that prisons are filled with young pot smokers, harmless victims of aggressive prosecution, is patently false.”

    The CI can, and does, ignore dogma-destroying facts but it’s more difficult to ignore its own Mission Statement:

    “To produce the most important, most informative, most intelligent, most provocative, most entertaining and fairest journalism in Colorado. We intend to serve the needs of readers and communities throughout the state with this simple but meaningful idea: The only bias we have is for good journalism.”

    Try not to laugh.

  2. Don Lopez, what a brilliant response to the CI’s inept and biased article on our charismatic District Attorney. Are you writing for any news outlet? Are you published? I’m very interested in your point of view in other areas, and will watch this feed for a response. Kudos to you and I LOVE your wrap-up with the CI’s Mission Statement! I tried not to laugh, to no avail I’m afraid!

  3. Your facts look kinda ok Mr. Don Lopez. Too bad after five minutes of fact-checking your article does not stand the test.

    Your most egregious statement: “Contemporary prison growth has been a relatively global phenomenon. From 1997 through 2007, prison populations grew in 68 percent of nations researched around the world”, is taken from:

    and your excerpt links to the following:

    This reference is dated 2003. Are you saying your reference predicts the future?

    Get your facts straight before you present an argument clearly.

    As a great morsel, thanks to you – here is an excerpt from this reference:

    “The police and prosecuting authorities often exercise a major filtering influence in the criminal justice system and not only in respect of offenders
    whose crimes are so minor that they would be unlikely to receive sentences
    of imprisonment.”

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