At Defy Colorado we are grateful that the conversation about racial injustice has shifted to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness. It is long overdue and the delay has been devastating to our country and its Black and Brown citizens. Our hope is that this conversation sparks long-lasting change and community transformation. We know our place within that transformation lies in the criminal justice system. More specifically, in our nation’s prisons. The system of mass incarceration is one of the most insidious, systemic, and deeply rooted tools that our country has used to oppress people of color since 1865 when the 13th amendment was passed.

The nationwide conversations around policing and police brutality were re-ignited most recently with the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and countless other Black people.

But problems with policing are just the tip of the iceberg of the racial injustice that exists in our country. The current system of policing initiates the chain of events that leads to the revolving door that is the criminal justice system and mass incarceration.

Let’s break it down.

Initial Contact

Black Americans are more likely to be stopped by the police than white people. Stop and frisk policies are performed more frequently on people of color. [2]


Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by the police than white people.[6]


People who are black are more likely to be arrested and arrested multiple times due to residential segregation and racial profiling. [5]


The federal reserve recently reported that 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are unable to afford a $400 emergency expense. This means that many people cannot afford to buy their release from jail during pretrial.[3]


The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 enacted the same penalty for selling 5 grams of crack cocaine—historically associated with Black communities—and 500 grams of powder cocaine— historically associated with white communities.[7]


Black men are incarcerated in prison at a rate 6 times that of White men. This means that 1 in 3 Black males can expect to be incarcerated sometime during their life while only 1 in 17 white men will be incarcerated.[1]


It is more difficult for a Black individual with a criminal history to obtain employment than it is for their white counterparts. Black applicants receive callbacks at a rate of less than half of the call back white applicants with a criminal history receive.[4]

Life After Incarceration

All of these factors combined lead to the most pressing, urgent, and infuriating statistic: Black people make up 14% of our nation’s population but 38% of the incarcerated population. To put this in perspective, white people make up 61.2% of our nation’s population but only 33.6% of the incarcerated population.

At Defy Colorado, we specialize in empowering individuals of all racial and ethnic groups inside the system. We fiercely believe in them and their potential. We know our communities will be better when these men and women re-enter them.

That’s not enough.

We will not settle for addressing only one piece of the problem. It is our responsibility to ensure we are doing our part to dismantle this brutal system that has been failing people for generations.

Defy Colorado has always been in a position to focus on systemic social justice in addition to individual empowerment. We have not reached our full potential in this area and we are committing to doing better. We often teach our EITs to tell us or their family if they have a new goal because sharing goals holds us more accountable. So we are practicing what we preach. We are telling you that we are going to be a leader in social justice, specifically in criminal justice reform. Our incredible EITs put us in a position to be very good at this. They are some of the brightest minds in criminal justice reform. Having taken responsibility for their mistakes, they are ready to share their experiences of injustice. However, their collective wisdom could be lost simply because the voices of those in prison are silenced. We plan to change that. Their voices will be amplified. Their thought leadership will be shared and we will link arm in arm with them as we work to dismantle the systemic problems that have oppressed them and 2.2 million currently incarcerated individuals.

So far, we have sponsored the recently passed Law Enforcement Accountability Act and we plan to continue to advocate for criminal justice reform on a policy level. You can join us in this fight. First and foremost, you can make a difference by volunteering with us and recruiting your network to volunteer alongside you. Second, you can support us as we advocate for policy initiatives in the future. Stay tuned to our newsletter for more updates in this area. Finally, promote social justice in your workplace. You can make a huge difference by providing equitable access to employment for people with criminal histories, specifically people of color. We recently developed a guide to help employers learn best practices around fair opportunity employment. Contact us to learn more about how your organization can become a fair opportunity employer and help to end cycles of incarceration, poverty, and oppression.

Email us at info@defycolorado.org to learn how you can help or to share your insights.

  1. Hetey R., Eberhardt, J., The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System, Stanford University, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2018, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721418763931
  2. Jones, A., Police stops are still marred by racial discrimination, new data shows, Prison Policy Initiative, October 12, 2018, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2018/10/12/policing/
  3. Mullen, A., ACLU Files Federal Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Discriminatory Cash Bail System That Punishes Poor People in Detroit, April 14, 2019, available at https://www.aclumich.org/en/press-releases/aclu-files-federal-class-action-lawsuit-challenging-discriminatory-cash-bail-system
  4. Pager, D., Western, B., & Sugie, N. (2009). Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 623(1), 195–213. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716208330793
  5. Rights Working Group, The Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in The United States, American Civil Liberties Union, June 30, 2009, available at https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/cerd_finalreport.pdf
  6. Sinyangwe, S., McKesson, D., 2017 Police Violence Report, Mapping Police Violence, 2017, available at https://policeviolencereport.org/
  7. Sorrentino, M., The Racial Oppression in America’s Mass Incarceration, Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, May 21, 2018, available at https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1059&context=themis
  8. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, FACT SHEET – Barriers to Successful Re-Entry of Formerly Incarcerated People, March 27, 2017, available at http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/criminal-justice/Re-Entry-Fact-Sheet.pdf