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98 Denv. L. Rev. 337 (2020-2021)
The Pandemic as a Portal: Reimagining Crime and Punishment in Colorado in the Wake of COVID-19

handle is hein.journals/denlr98 and id is 342 raw text is: THE PANDEMIC AS A PORTAL: REIMAGINTNG CRIME AND
There is growing recognition that the phenomenon of mass incar-
ceration fails to achieve public safety, perpetuates cycles of harm in
communities, and is costly and ineffective. Most experts agree that it will
be impossible to achieve a meaningful decrease in our rates of mass in-
carceration without considering our response to violent crime. And yet,
most recent reform efforts, including those in Colorado, have targeted the
low-hanging fruit of nonviolent offenses or very limited categories of
extreme sentences, such as the death penalty and life without parole sen-
tences for juveniles. In this Article, we argue that the reason this ap-
proach has been so limited is because of false and persistent dehumaniz-
ing narratives about people who commit acts of violence. These narra-
tives also dominate broader public conversations about crime and pun-
ishment and legitimize other excessive and draconian sentences. After
unpacking these myths and their consequences for mass incarceration,
we examine their impact on Colorado's anemic response to reducing jail
and prison populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, at this
significant moment in history, we argue that instead of tiptoeing around
the edges of carceral reform, we should be radically reimagining crime
and punishment in our state so that we can build a ladder to reach the
fruit higher up the tree. For this approach to succeed, we must come to
understand crime and violence as multidimensional social problems. We
must reimagine justice as a means of holding individuals accountable for
their actions while also repairing harm. Simultaneously, we must
acknowledge the current damage mass incarceration inflicts upon human
beings and expand space for healing in correctional facilities. With those
t   Director, The Powell Project. J.D., Harvard Law School, 2004; M.Phil. Cambridge Uni-
versity, 2000; B.A. Wellesley College, 1999. The Powell Project's mission is to fight against, and
provide relief from, the extreme and excessive sentencing practices that have come to define the
American criminal legal system. The Author dedicates this Article to J.S., B.W., and G.G., whose
words do not appear in this Article, but whose lived experiences with life sentences were the inspira-
tion behind it.
tt   Deputy State Public Defender - Appellate Division, Office of the Colorado State Public
Defender. J.D., Harvard Law School, 2014; B.A. Pomona College, 2009. All views expressed are
her own. The Author dedicates this Article to her clients and all who are incarcerated. Both Authors
would like to thank Isadora Ruyter-Harcourt for her research and insightful editing assistance,
Maureen Cain for her valuable feedback, as well as the student editors of the Denver Law Review for
their hard work, comments, and suggestions. [W]hile there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
- Eugene V. Debs.


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