BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
Ten members of the Arapahoe County Long Range Planning Commission joined Jeff Baker, Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Chair, Tyler Brown, Arapahoe County Sheriff, Brian Arnold of Bridge House Ready to Work, and a dozen uniformed sheriff’s deputies gathered on the lawn between the Arapahoe County Jail and the Arapahoe County Justice Center at 7325 S. Potomac Street in Centennial to support the kickoff of the campaign to support referred ballot measure 1A in Arapahoe County. Called “Safer Arapahoe County,” it is privately funded.
Spokesman Sean Walsh spoke first. “We are asking voters to approve this $5.66 a month property tax to improve conditions to reduce recidivism. There is wide agreement that something needs to change.” Jeff Baker said, “The new facility will create better facilities for the inmates, including medical and spiritual care.”
Sheriff Tyler Brown explained, “This infrastructure was designed for 386 inmates. We have 1,100 today. We want to give them the programs that will help ensure that they return in good shape to our communities.”
Brian Arnold, program director at Bridge House Ready to Work said, “(A new facility) will provide programming for people who come out of incarceration. I’m not for new prisons or increasing prison population. Pointing to the current jail, he said, “This is not a safe or humane environment. Programming that will reduce recidivism is not available. After 30 years of wear and tear and overcrowding, it is not safe or humane. The jail isn’t going anywhere. Let’s make it a place where people can get the get (the help and the services they need.)”
Supporters of the ballot measure held signs up that said “Vote for a Safer Arapahoe County — Yes on 1A.” Protesters from the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition held up signs behind the supporters that said, “No on 1A.” When we asked them why they were against the measure, Becca Curry, criminal justice research & policy counsel of the Colorado office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posed the question, “Why aren’t there more community-based treatment options?” Others said that the jail population could be reduced by shorter sentences and designation more crimes are not requiring cash bonds.
The Arapahoe County Justice Coordinating Committee, which includes two of the five BOCC commissioners, the county sheriff, the sheriff’s office bureau chief who runs the Arapahoe County jail, the district attorney, the head public defender, and the chief probation officer of the 18th judicial district, along with a local mayor and police chief, has been addressing those issues for several years. They believe it is one of the chief reasons why the number of daily incarcerations has been declining steadily since 2011, according to public records (https://recordsfinder.com/inmate-search/co/arapahoe), while the county’s population has increased by 14 percent.
Juston Cooper, deputy director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said he objected to the new facility because it will have more beds. Said Cooper, “If you build it, you’ve got to fill it.” In the information presented to members of the Long Range Planning Committee over three months, it was explained that the current jail population of 1,100 includes cells where inmates are required to triple-bunk and there is no ability to separate those inmates with behavioral or mental health issues from the general population. The plan for the new jail is to add three new housing pods so that inmates with behavioral or mental difficulties can be housed separately. The total number of beds is proposed to be 1,612 in order to prevent overcrowded cells. Eleven new multipurpose classrooms are hoped to provide the type of education and assistance that will ultimately reduce the jail population.
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