One of the biggest and least popular parts of the state budget in Colorado is the corrections budget, which pays for our prisons. The place to start an informed debate on that issue is to know who is in prison right now. The best available data in a single chart is on page 77 of this government report, which breaks down the prison population by offense, gender, and whether the offense was inchoate (i.e. usually attempt, but also conspiracy or solicitation), or actual.
Let's start with some basic facts. In 2004, there were 19,347 inmates in state prisons, of whom 17,621 were men (91.1%), and 1,726 were women. Of the men, 45.6% were in for violent offenses, as were 26.4% of the women (94.6% of people serving time for violent crimes are men).
The most common offenses (by percentage of total prison population, including related inchoate crimes such as attempts to commit these crimes) are:
Sex Offenders 11.4%
Theft (including car theft) 9.9%
Assault (including vehicular assault) 8.4%
Habitual Non-Violent Felon 3.1%
Child Abuse 2.1%
Fraud and Forgery and Embezzlement 1.8%
Miscellaneous Non-Violent Crimes 3.3%
The inmate population is 46.3% non-Hispanic White, 29.1% Hispanic, 21.6% non-Hispanic black, 2.1% American Indian, and 0.9% Asian. About 7% of inmates are foreign born and about two-thirds of them were born in Mexico.
Felonies are rated in Colorado from I, the most severe, to VI, the least serious, and the percentage whose highest conviction is in each category is as follows:
I 3.3% (e.g. 1st degree murder; 1st degree kidnapping seriously injuring the victim)
II 6.5% (e.g. 2nd degree murder; 1st degree kidnapping)
III 26.2% (e.g. 1st degree assault; theft of in excess of $15,000; 1st degree arson)
IV 37.1% (e.g. unarmed burglary; theft of in excess of $500)
V 17.2% (e.g. forgery; criminally negligent homicide; menacing with a deadly weapon)
VI 3.5% (e.g. paying with a check drawn on a non-existent bank account)
Habitual Offender Sentences 3.0%
Lifetime Sex Offender Sentences 2.6%
Other 0.5% (e.g. tax fraud would be an unclassified felony)
The average sentence and most common crime in each category for new offenders is also set forth in the report (at page 46). A class I felony carries life without parole or death as a sentence, and is largely confined to first degree murder and aggravated first degree kidnapping.
A class II felony has an average sentence of 27.2 years. The most common offenses for this class of felony and the average sentences are second degree murder (33.2 years), attempted first degree murder (34.6 years), second degree kidnapping (31.3 years), drug offenses (12.3 years), and organized crime (13.8 years).
A class III felony has an average sentence of 9.6 years. The most common offenses for this class of felony and the average sentences are drug offenses (7 years), 2nd degree burglary (7.8 years), sex assault on a child (10.9 years), aggravated robbery (18.5 years), 1st degree assault (22.6 years), theft (8.2 years), vehicular homicide (12.2 years), 1st degree burglary (10.8 years), and attempted second degree murder (16.8 years).
A class IV felony has an average sentence of 4.5 years. The most common offenses for this class of felony and the average sentences are drug offenses (3.6 years), theft (4.1 years), 2nd degree burglary (4.5 years), 2nd degree assault (6.2 years), escape (4.1 years), sexual assault on a child (5.7 years), robbery (4.8 years), and aggravated car theft (4.1 years).
A class V felony has an average sentence of 2.6 years. The most common offenses for this class of felony and the average sentences are drug offenses (2.2 years), escape (2.2 years), menacing (2.5 years), criminal trespassing (2.3 years), and theft (2.4 years).
A class VI felony has an average sentence of 1.5 years. The most common offenses for this class of felony and the average sentences are driving after judgment (1.5 years), drug offenses (1.4 years), criminal impersonation (1.5 years), and criminal trespass (1.6 years).
About 49.4% of those in Colorado prisoners are eligible for parole but have been denied parole at least once. About 188 offenders aren't eligible for parole until they have served at least 75% of their sentences, the threshold is lower for the rest. The average sentence being served is for 11.3 years (the average sentence for newly admitted felons is 4.6 years, but since inmates with short sentences cycle through more quickly, they make up a disproportionately small share of the total), and the average inmate has been in prison on the current sentence for just under three years.
As of the end of 2005 there were 374 inmates serving sentences of life without possibility of parole, 430 serving sentences of life with parole possible after some fixed period of time (generally ten to forty years), 844 sex offenders subject to lifetime supervision, 32 sex offenders subject to 1 day to life sentences, and 7 individuals serving pre-1979 life sentences.
The offenses in the case of the life sentences were:
1st degree murder 668
1st degree kidnapping 10
Sex offenses 876
Habitual offender sentences 126
Pre-1979 offenses 7
In addition there were two inmates in the Colorado system (less than 1% of murder convicts) on death row at the end of 2005 (Edward Montour, convicted in 2003 of killing a prison guard, and Nathan Dunlap, convicted in 1996 of four murders at the Aurora Chuck E Cheese restaurant).
The focus of most efforts to reduce the prison population is on shortening sentences and finding alternative options for non-violent offenders, such of those convicted of drug crimes or theft.