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ACLU is urging counties not to build new jails or add more beds in Colorado

Posted at 4:56 PM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 20:37:22-04

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DENVER -- No one disagrees both the Arapahoe County and Larimer County jails need improvements.

"The ACLU certainly does not want to be on record of promoting horrible conditions for inmates," said Denise Maes, Public Policy Director for the ACLU Colorado.

It's adding new beds where the ACLU is taking issue.

"It's just lazy, in my mind, to just say build a new jail and not really do the hard work of figuring out how you should get people out of jail," Maes said.

The Arapahoe County jail is falling apart, and the sheriff's office is pushing for a new jail, which would likely add some new beds. Built more than three decades ago, they said the jail was built to house under 400 inmates and now houses nearly 1,200 inmates every day.

"We're at a critical point now where something more needs to be done," Chief Vince Line told Denver7 in June.

Larimer County leaders said they are dealing with similar problems, which is why the commissioner recently approved a $75 million jail improvement plan. The upgrades will add 250 beds as well as mental health and medical services.

"Larimer County has been at capacity or over capacity for some time," said Larimer County Manager Linda Hoffmann. "You can't remodel within an occupied foot print, so we have to add space to do those support facilities and get a more appropriate housing unit for our inmates."

"I really believe that the 'build it, they will come' (mentality) is really true and that means they just add to their incarceration rates," said Maes. "Get your people out of jail quicker, make more offenses non-jail able and do something about your bail system."

Larimer County agrees and said it has spent more than a decade working to lower its inmate population.

"Larimer County has made efforts over the last 15 years to get people out of jail as the courts and the law enforcement allow. The county does not decide who to jail," said Hoffmann.

Arapahoe County said it takes a three-prong approach to avoid repeat criminal activity and said inmate population is already down 13% as a result of efforts to keep non-violent offenders out of jail since 2009.

The county recently created a committee to help commissioners make decisions about future needs. The committee is made up of 25 community members and they hope to make initial recommendations in August. A new jail comes with an estimated $462 million price tag.

"It doesn't make good sense to use county money to have more beds for more people in a jail," said Maes.