Colorado released 290 inmates under governor’s executive order — less than 2% of prison population

The executive order has since expired

The entrance to Centennial South Correctional Facility, formerly known as CSP II, on July 19, 2019. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a separate prison in Sterling is on lockdown. (Photo by John Herrick)

Colorado’s prison system let out 290 inmates over two months under the governor’s executive order relaxing standards for release — less than 2% of the system’s pre-pandemic population and far less than hoped by advocates working to protect prisoners from COVID-19.

The executive order was intended to help prison administrators create more space in the prisons so inmates could better practice social distancing and to reduce the number of people who could be infected should the coronavirus get behind the walls. But the number of people released was barely enough to make a dent on the number locked up.

“They were very cautious at using those tools. I was surprised at how cautious they were,” said Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. “It’s not a machine that’s used to rapid releases. That’s just not the design. Could they have done more? Absolutely.”

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Elise Schmelzer is the public safety reporter at The Denver Post and covers police, crime and criminal justice. She previously wrote for the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming, the Washington Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. She studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of Missouri. When she's not writing, she disappears into the mountains to hike and fish.