Criminal Justice 101

young people walking

Access to health care services can help reduce rates of recidivism

Justice Involved Individuals Snapshot

  • On any given day there are more than 120,000 individuals involved in the criminal justice system in Colorado.
  • Justice involved individuals have substantially higher rates of medical, psychiatric and addiction problems as compared to the general public.
  • It is estimated that the majority of justice involved people (approximately 70%) qualify for Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program).
  • In addition to income and household size, eligibility depends on one’s status in the criminal justice system. Learn more about eligibility.

Criminal Justice Overview

  • The criminal justice system is not just one system. It is made up of numerous agencies and departments, both public and private.
  • In Colorado, there are essentially three different components that make up the criminal justice system: the court system, law enforcement and corrections.
  • There are many different ways that people can be “justice involved” which can impact whether they are eligible for Health First Colorado or tax subsidies through Connect for Health Colorado.

Judicial Branch

  • The court system in Colorado is divided into 22 independent Judicial Districts that each have courts that hear different kinds of cases, i.e. criminal, civil, family law, etc. Some operate “specialty courts” like drug court or veteran’s court.
  • Each Judicial District has an independent Probation Office and a Chief Probation Officer. Probation Officers are officers of the court.
  • Each judicial district has an elected District Attorney who is responsible for filing and prosecuting criminal cases.
  • Colorado has a unified state Public Defender’s Office that represents indigent clients. The Public Defender has numerous offices across the state. There are also defense attorneys in private practice across the state.

Law Enforcement

  • Law enforcement includes: state police, local police, county sheriffs and jails.
  • Jails are operated by the local county, generally the county Sheriff’s Department.
  • There are over 50 county jails in Colorado.
  • People can be in jail for many different reasons.
  • Each jail is responsible for inmate medical care.


  • The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) manages, supervises and operates Colorado’s 19 state prisons and contracts with 2 private owned prisons.
  • Most people released from prison will be required to serve a period of supervision, called “parole” after they are released. Parole officers work for the Department of Corrections, not the court.
  • There are 29 community corrections facilities in Colorado.
  • Community Corrections facilities (halfway houses) provide supervision to individuals in the community who have been sentenced directly by the court or are transitioning out of prison.

Learn More

  • Review our Glossary of Terms

    To assist professionals as they are learning each other’s respective systems, we’ve provided a list of health and criminal justice related terms.

  • Read our FAQs

    We’ve compiled health and criminal justice-related questions and answers to help professionals and the community better serve justice involved individuals.

  • Resources for Agencies

    Information and resources for criminal justice, health care agencies, and the community to assist their clients with better access to care.

  • Get connected to other professionals using The Take Care - Health Matters Professional Guide

    The Take Care – Health Matters Professional Guide provides county level health-related and criminal justice-related information to help individuals in these fields build relationships and assist clients with better access to care. The purpose of this guide is to connect Colorado criminal justice agencies, health care professionals and community organizations so that they may assist justice involved individuals who qualify for Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program).

  • View our training presentation - Criminal Justice 101 and the Affordable Care Act

    A presentation for health care professionals. Includes an overview of Colorado’s criminal justice system, including a brief criminal justice 101 glossary of terms, as well as how one’s status in the criminal justice system impacts eligibility for health care coverage.

    The presentation also provides things to consider for health care professionals to better assist justice involved people in accessing health care coverage and care.

    Download presentation slides [PDF]