Solving the jail overcrowding problem
Mesa County criminal justice leaders from several agencies have suggested various solutions that could help address crowding at the jail through both short- and long-term relief. Not all proposed solutions have widespread support, however. Here’s a look at some of the options.
SOLUTION: Build a new
jail or expand the current facility.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Depending on how much growth the jail population sees in coming years, it may be necessary to expand or build an entirely new facility, although Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis doesn’t think that time is now.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: The county would have to secure funding, most likely through a voter-approved package.
SOLUTION: Hire a weekend bond magistrate.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Currently almost all those arrested between Friday and Sunday have to wait until Monday afternoon to see a judge and ask for a bond. A magistrate who hears bond arguments on weekends — a position that existed until 2011 — could help move low-risk defendants out of the jail more quickly, and might help some of them keep their jobs.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Chief Judge Brian Flynn would need to seek permission from the state judicial department before hiring a new magistrate. Flynn did not confirm whether he would support the move, but said he is meeting with other leaders to discuss solutions, including “the duty judge electronically setting bonds on the weekends.”
SOLUTION: Expand the Summit View Treatment Center for more in-patient space and mental health counseling.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Expanding the drug treatment center, which currently has 36 beds, and adding more resources for mentally ill patients could help some defendants break out of their cycle of mental illness, substance abuse and crime.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: The county would need to find a way to pay for the increased yearly operations, pay for the facility expansion it would require, and attract the mental health and substance abuse counselors needed to make the move a reality.
SOLUTION: Expand pre- trial services officers’ ability to release some defendants on personal-recognizance bonds.
HOW IT COULD HELP: The Criminal Justice Services Department uses a research-supported tool to calculate defendants’ likely ability to show up for court and their risk to public safety if they’re released. In some low-stakes cases with low-risk defendants, they can approve bonds before defendants see a judge. Some believe that discretionary ability should be expanded to get more people out of the jail.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Flynn would have to issue an order and the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices would likely have to sign off on it.
SOLUTION: Order surety bonds in more cases.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Ordering high cash-only bonds often has the effect of ensuring an inmate stays in jail. Proponents of surety bonds believe that involving a bondsman saves the county money by freeing up space in the jail and giving a private entity a stake in ensuring defendants show up in court.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Nothing. Mesa County judges in both county and district court make final bond decisions already and can choose to order surety bonds when they think it’s appropriate.
SOLUTION: Find an addiction therapist for the Summit View Treatment Center.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Filling a vacant therapist position at the addiction treatment center would open up 12 new beds at the center, which on average has a 30-person waiting list of jail inmates who have been approved for the program.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: The Criminal Justice Services Department would need to successfully hire a therapist in the midst of a national treatment provider shortage, which it has been unable to do for several years.
SOLUTION: Build an outpatient mental health treatment center.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Proponents say a program modeled on Boulder’s Partnership for Active Community Engagement could help stabilize a significant number of homeless people with mental illness and substance addiction, which could help keep them out of the jail.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: The county would need to find a way to pay for construction costs and staffing costs, a major investment.
SOLUTION: Contract with other jails to temporarily house inmates when numbers are high.
HOW IT COULD HELP: Transporting inmates to other jails — like one in Washington County in eastern Colorado — could help alleviate some crowding, although the Sheriff’s Office would then have to coordinate bringing defendants back for court appearances.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Nothing. The jail can already do this, although the Sheriff’s Office believes it’s not practical in most cases.
SOLUTION: Refuse to house people arrested on municipal warrants.
HOW IT COULD HELP: This could pare down the jail’s numbers by a small amount, although Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis said only a fractional number of people are arrested on municipal warrants.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: Sheriff’s spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said she did not know what steps would need to be taken, saying that “We’re not going to dive into this because it’s not going to happen.”