A new study that sheds light on reasons why inmates experiencing homelessness have moved to Colorado since 2012 found that more than a third came because of legalized marijuana.
The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice study asked 507 inmates in seven jails -- Arapahoe, Denver (city and county jails), El Paso, Larimer, Mesa and Pueblo -- about a number of things to examine the proliferation of homelessness in the state's criminal justice system.
When responses for both medical and recreational marijuana were combined, 35.1 percent of inmates who moved to the state after 2012 and who are experiencing homelessness cited that as the reason they came to Colorado.
But marijuana was sixth place, at 18.5 percent, when it came to reasons why those same inmates said they stayed in Colorado. Family, outdoor activities and friends were all higher.
The highest number of inmates experiencing homelessness, 44.2 percent, said they came here "to get away from a problem," while 38.9 percent said it was because of "family."
A national report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released December 2017 found Colorado's homeless population to be at 10,940, up 4 percent since 2016.
Inmates surveyed who were currently not experiencing homelessness reported marijuana as a reason to move to the state 21.6 percent of the time.
The survey also looked at the prevalence of drug use among inmates. It found that inmates experiencing homelessness reported having a substance abuse disorder 55.9 percent of the time, while those who weren't experiencing homelessness reported it 35.3 percent of the time. A majority of both groups said they'd been treated for it, 82 percent and 88 percent, respectively.
"While many respondents reported drug use in the 30 days prior to incarceration, especially cannabis and methamphetamine, a greater proportion of homeless respondents compared to non‐homeless
respondents reported using marijuana, methamphetamines and amphetamines, and fewer reported
using alcohol and crack cocaine compared to non‐homeless inmates. However, these differences were
not statistically significant," the study says.
Mental health problems among inmates experiencing homelessness was also higher, 64.2 percent, compared to 46.4 percent for those not experiencing homelessness.
The inmates were surveyed between June 12, 2017 and Oct. 22, 2017 and the study defined homelessness as "living on the street, outdoors, in an abandoned building, shelter, living free with family/friends or living in a motel" in the past 30 days. Of the 507 surveyed, 297 identified themselves as "homeless," and 46.3 percent, nearly half, said they expected to be homeless when released from jail.