Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said county residents should expect to see inmates released early from the Jefferson County Correctional Facility for the rest of the year. The Sheriff’s …
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Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said county residents should expect to see inmates released early from the Jefferson County Correctional Facility for the rest of the year.
The Sheriff’s Office had to begin releasing certain inmates from the facility earlier this month to manage the population of the jail after Shrader ordered the closure of the jail’s seventh floor, dropping the jail’s capacity from 1,392 beds to 1,148 beds.
Shrader says the closure is one of several steps he has taken to make $5.5 million in cuts. Those cuts were necessary because the county had reached the cap for how much money it can collect under the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which uses population and inflation to set the formula for how much revenue counties can collect.
The jail released 21 inmates on Jan. 19, as the facility reached two percent above its new capacity (the threshold the sheriff has set to trigger releases) for the first time since the closure of the seventh floor at the start of the year. Another 41 inmates were released on Jan. 21.
The sheriff’s order directs the facility’s staff to begin releasing inmates who have served at least 50% of their sentence when the jail’s population reaches two percent above its capacity. Inmates will be released in the order of greatest amount of sentence served, although there are exceptions for inmates whom a judge has ordered cannot be released early as well as those who have received a minimum sentence.
Shrader said that he felt he was making “the best out of a bad situation” by ordering the closure of the seventh floor but feels deeply uncomfortable about the ramifications of releasing inmates from the jail early.
“There has been a misnomer out there that we aren’t releasing felons from the jail,” Shrader said. “We are.”
Among the crimes that the inmates released early have been convicted of are aggravated motor vehicle theft, a third DUI and offenses related to dangerous drugs. In Shrader’s view, such releases make Jeffco less safe while also undermining the criminal justice system.
“It undermines that thought process court went through, it undermines the work the DA went through to get prepared to prosecute somebody, it undermines crime victims who should a reasonable expectation that the sentence they heard in court is the sentence someone will actually serve,” Shrader said. “And it undermines our society in that the consequence for an action isn’t really the consequence.”
But while Shrader said he continues to lose sleep over the releases, he said he felt they represent better options for the county than other alternatives like reducing school resource officers or other law enforcement capabilities. He is also adamant that he will not lay off sheriff’s office staff (all staff reductions, including those relating to the seventh floor closure, were achieved via attrition).
“One of the things I have tried to be clear about is that we are not going to face this budget crisis on the backs of employees because it will only cause greater problems,” Shrader said. “If employees feel this is being done on their back they are going to go somewhere else and we need them doing what they are doing here.”
Shrader said it also likely won’t be long before the Sheriff’s Office reaches a point where it has exhausted the options for early release and must begin limiting the number of arrested offenders who have been booked into jail.
“At first I thought it would be April before we get to enhanced arrest standards but based on where we got this week with the releases it seems like that’s coming a lot sooner,” he said.
That possibility, as well as the current release situation, will also have an impact on the county’s municipal police departments, which rely on the jail to house those they arrest.
Police department responses varied
Joe Harvey, the deputy chief of the Golden Police Department, said that officers in that department are being encouraged to use discretion to evaluate which arrestees do and do not need to be booked into jail in order to reduce the number of inmates they are contributing to the jail. He said his department is also looking into possibilities for decriminalization of certain charges and implementing a restorative justice program for certain offenders, though he said those changes are in the early stages.
Harvey said those steps come out of a desire to be a partner with the county sheriff, who he feels used due diligence to come to the decision to close the seventh floor.
“Our official stance is we support the sheriff in having to make difficult decisions and we let the sheriff make the decisions on his organization as best as he sees fit,” Harvey said.
John Romero, a public information officer for the Lakewood Police Department, said public should not expect things in Lakewood to be impacted by the correctional facility situation.
“Truth be told, we don’t have a lot to say,” Romero said in an email. “This will not change anything about the way we patrol, investigate or arrest criminals.”
Colorado Community Media did not receive a response to attempts to reach out to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office for comment on the situation and the impact it would have for prosecutors.
Although Shrader expects the releases to continue for the rest of the year, he said he will continue to advocate for the county commissioners to make public safety a priority in making budget decisions. Such advocacy is particularly important, he said, because the county is projecting that another similar budget cut will need to be made next year.
“I candidly don’t know how we are going to manage that,” Shrader said.
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