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Reports spotlight severe incarceration inequities in Nevada, Colorado

An exterior image of the entrance to a prison. A sign that says “High Desert State Prison” is in the left corner. Three prison towers are in the distance.
Flickr Creative Commons
The High Desert State Prison in Clark County, Nev.

Imprisonment rates are markedly higher in communities of color across the U.S., according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice reform. And its work to spotlight what it calls “the geography of mass incarceration” has recently focused on parts of the Mountain West.

This week the group published a report revealing where people in Nevada prisons come from. It shows, for example, that people in Las Vegas City Council’s Ward 5, a historically Black neighborhood, are six times more likely to be in prison than those in Ward 6, a predominantly white neighborhood just a few blocks away.

Native communities are also hit hard by mass incarceration. Across Nevada’s Indian reservations, the imprisonment rate is 337 per 100,000 residents. That’s higher than every city in the state but one – Ely – and significantly higher than the state average of 252 per 100,000.

These findings could help state leaders identify where investments are needed most, according to Noé Orosco with the advocacy group Silver State Voices, which partnered with Prison Policy Initiative on its report.

“If we’re able to reallocate some of these funding and these resources, then that could potentially shift the community from being over-policed and over-incarcerated to then being able to actually utilize those resources,” Orosco said.

The Prison Policy Initiative published a similar report last month on Colorado’s incarceration geography. It shows that some of the highest incarceration rates are in counties with large Hispanic or Latino populations. Alamosa County, which has a population that is 48% Hispanic or Latino, has an imprisonment rate of 557 per 100,000 residents, which is more than double the state average.

The group was able to collect this data because Nevada and Colorado each passed laws in recent years that ended prison gerrymandering. That’s the practice in which incarcerated people are counted in the census as part of the county where their prison cell is located.

Now, Nevada and Colorado are two of more than a dozen states where people in prisons are counted as residents of their last home address.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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