JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The Jefferson County Jail is being forced to close one floor and cut 244 beds because of budget cuts.
The county warned their $16 million shortfall would drastically cut services if voters didn’t approve ballot issue 1A in November.
The county wanted voters to allow them to keep TABOR refunds for seven years but voters said no.
“I don’t like this at all. I don’t like the circumstances we have been faced with, there have been a lot of sleepless nights,” Sheriff Jeff Shrader said.
The $5.5 million in budget cuts to the jail mean some inmates will get out early, starting with those with misdemeanors who have served 50% of their sentence. But some with felonies could be released as well.
“There will be felons that will be released typically that will be property crimes but not in all cases,” Shrader said.
Shrader added that while this is ultimately his decision, he believes early release is a public safety issue that puts people back on the street that may re-victimize.
“Maybe it’s somebody who stole a car and when they’ve been identified and stopped they fight with police and they have drugs in their pocket,” Shrader said.
The ACLU of Colorado disagrees, and calls Shrader’s public safety concerns “fear mongering.”
“The majority of people in that jail are innocent. The only reason they are there is because they are pre-trial and they are there because they haven’t been able to afford the money bail to bail out,” Denise Maes, Public Police Director with ACLU Colorado, said.
She said jails need to focus more on mental health and rehab services that prevent recidivism.
“You cannot get well in a jail cell,” Maes said. “We haven’t done enough conversation with the public saying, where are your dollars better spent to continue to make bigger jails? Or do you put it into systems where you can rehabilitate and fix broken people?”
County commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said they did everything they could to work with the sheriff on the budget and more.
“Even with prioritizing safety – and by that I mean finding additional dollars to place against those cuts – the Sheriff still faced some difficult decisions,” Dahlkemper said.
She said they are already looking at their 2021 budget and the jail could be forced to close another floor.
They are asking taxpayers how they would like to see their budget restructured and are open to looking at how other communities are reducing jail populations.
“What might that mean in terms at looking at innovations in home detention or pre-trial services?” she said.