The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has reopened a portion of the seventh floor of the county jail and is using it to house inmates that are showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
JCSO Public Information Officer Michael Taplin said the jail has reopened two modules on the seventh floor — one for men and one for women — after the floor was closed at the start of the year as a result of county budget cuts.
As of March 24, 36 inmates are being housed on the seventh floor because they are either exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or have possibly been exposed to the virus. That number is up from three on March 16. Unlike in the rest of the jail, all inmates being housed on the seventh floor are isolated in individual cells.
Taplin said inmates are being moved to the seventh floor if they exhibit any of the identified symptoms of COVID-19, which include coughing, a fever and respiratory issues. They are recommended for test if they exhibit more than one of the symptoms. So far, one JCSO inmate has been tested for the virus but results have not been received back due to a testing backlog. However, that inmate has since bonded out of jail.
In an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the jail, the Sheriff's Office also announced on March 19 that it would release all inmates who have served a minimum of 50 percent of their sentence for non-violent crimes that do not involve the Victim's Rights Act. 36 inmates were released under the order, a number which Taplin said helped to bring the jail to “well under” its current operating capacity. As of March 24, the population of the jail was just under 900, Taplin said.
“Being law enforcement, the last thing we want to do is let someone go early who has violated a law after we have put all the work in to investigating and going through a court process and then the judge sentencing said person to a certain amount of time in jail,” said Taplin. “But it's what we are doing to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The sheriff's office has released inmates from the jail on several occasions in accordance with those criteria when the jail was close to reaching its operational capacity following the closure of the seventh floor.
In addition to the releases, jail staff have also put up information around the jail to inform inmates about the risk posed by COVID-19 and the need to wash hands regularly and perform other preventative measures. However, Taplin said jail staff does not have the ability to require inmates to take any precautions. Inmates generally have the ability to maintain six feet of distance while they are awake. However, the jail is not able to ensure six feet of distance between beds.
District Attorney's Office
The First Judicial District Attorney's Office, which handles prosecution in Jefferson and Gilpin counties, has also announced that it is taking steps to help reduce the number of inmates in the jail. Those steps include actively reviewing files to identify those offenders who may be of least risk to the community and offering them a personal recognizance bond and a continued court date. Emergency hearings were also held by judges to move that process forward.
“This process is not as simple as it may sound,” wrote Pam Russell, the Public Information Officer for the First Judicial District Attorney's Office. “It is not possible in every case to systematically reschedule a hearing; there may be legal issues such as the right to speedy trial and the constitutional rights of crime victims.”
The DA's office also has announced that it is working with Jeffrey Pilkington, the chief judge of the First Judicial District, to comply with an order from the Colorado Supreme Court that all criminal and civil trials be rescheduled. The order also recommends that all other hearings be rescheduled whenever, possible.
“This is a tremendous undertaking,” said First Judicial District Attorney Pete Weir in a statement. “The courts in Jefferson and Gilpin counties are working hard to try to resolve the issue of reducing the risk of exposure for everyone involved and at the same time ensuring the safety of our community.”
Despite the changes, the District Attorney's office continues to operate and remain open to law enforcement and officers of the court. It's offices are not currently open to the public.
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