Adams County: Inmate cap issue unresolved

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The Adams County sheriff and individual community police chiefs are at an impasse regarding the amount of municipal inmates that should be housed at the county jail.

Thornton, Westminster, Aurora, Commerce City and Brighton police chiefs aired public safety concerns related to inmates being turned away from the Adams County jail during a press conference May 28 at the Thornton Police Department.

Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr

responded with his own press conference May 29.

Darr said that budget cuts and hiring restrictions made by the board of county commissioners affect jail staffing.

“When you’re not properly staffed and you have violent offenders in jail, the issues of safety become real important,” Darr said. “The safety of our personnel and the inmates in our custody are my responsibility and I can’t ignore it and won’t ignore it.”

The daily cost to house an inmate at the Adams County facility is $114.21.

Kurt Ester, the jail’s division chief, said that in the past couple years, jail staff has had 42,000 hours of overtime.

“I’m working these folks to death just to keep them as safe as possible, and we’re doing everything we can to maintain that,” he said.

The cap restriction — which is 30 and began on Jan. 1, 2012 — was divided among nine municipalities based on their population in Adams County.

The caps, set by Darr, were as follows: Thornton, eight; Westminster, five; Aurora and Commerce City, four apiece; Northglenn and Brighton, three each; and one each for Federal Heights, Arvada and Bennett.

The commissioners — during their April 15 meeting — unanimously rescinded the caps placed on the number of inmates sent by cities to the county jail. A couple weeks ago, however, seven prisoners from Aurora were not allowed to be housed at the county jail.

Aurora Chief Dan Oates at the May 28 press conference said these prisoners were sentenced for crimes that included shoplifting, trespassing, misdemeanor battery, motor vehicle theft and prostitution and all had a criminal history.

The sheriff disputed the claim that he released violent offenders into the community, saying that in the past he’s seen inmates sentenced to jail for petty offenses such as obscene language, open container and one person who was sentenced for 360 days for loitering.

He explained that the inmates that were refused a couple weeks ago were sent to another jail, at Aurora’s expense, and that at that time Aurora was four times over its cap.

Before the cap, the municipalities had an average of 130 to 140 inmates at the jail on a daily basis. The chiefs pointed out that the cities have worked hard to reduce that average by 65 percent to 44 daily prisoners.

Darr also pointed out that domestic violence offenders were not counted against the cap and that the cap was not a hard 30.

Darr said two things would resolve the staffing issues at the jail — lower the volume of inmates and hire more staff.

Last fall the commissioners gave Darr approval to hire 13 people. The sheriff said that hiring for those positions would take time.

“From the day that you advertise for a law enforcement position, through the selection process, through the training process — that means the academy and the field training officer programs — it’s almost one year before you can independently deploy them for service,” he said.

The Adams County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee was formed in 2012 to study ways to reduce the number of inmates at the jail and it made its recommendations in March.

“Those formal recommendations included a uniform bond schedule cap, standardized pay-or-serve sentences and a 20 percent reduction in non-mandatory sentence lengths,” said Ruth Kedzior, assistant county administrator. “The commissioners encourage the cities and the sheriff to continue to seek solutions to the jail issues through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee while at the same time protecting public safety in our community.”