Policing, Punishment, Property, Control: A Brief History of Policing and the Prison Industrial Complex in Colorado’s Front Range, 1850s–Present

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Main contributor
Heiderscheidt, Drew
Since emerging in the 1970s, the prison industrial complex (PIC)—roughly defined as the constellation of governments, corporations, and others that employ policing, incarceration, surveillance, and more to manage social and political problems—has expanded rapidly. Today, the U.S. incarcerates more people (both in raw numbers and per capita) and spends more on policing than any other country in the world. In response, the political project of abolition argues for the dismantlement of the PIC and its constitutive elements, and their replacement with meaningful alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. But, while the PIC itself emerged in the mid-to-late 20th century, its historical roots stretch back further, to the 19th century, if not earlier. This story map seeks to expand the geographical focus of the PIC’s history by briefly illuminating the PIC’s historical development in Colorado’s Front Range region, with a particular emphasis on policing, starting in the mid-1850s and concluding in the early 21st century. As such, it adopts an abolitionist perspective to show how protecting property, punishing deviation from social norms, controlling local populations (especially minorities and poor people), and facilitating the accumulation of wealth drove the PIC’s growth in the Front Range. In doing so, it traces the settlement of the region during the Gold Rush in the late 1850s, Denver’s construction by chain gang labor, the infiltration of the Denver Police Department (DPD) by the Ku Klux Klan, suppression of the Denver Black Panther Party, and a number of other topics.
IDAH Spring Symposium
Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities
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Presented at the IDAH Spring Symposium, Maxwell Hall, Indiana University Bloomington, April 22, 2022.

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