Voters reject measure for new Arapahoe County jail

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Arapahoe County won't get a new jail for the time being, after voters soundly rejected Ballot Issue 1A, which would have raised property taxes to replace the county's current jail.

In early returns on election night, 67.2% of voters rejected the measure, with 32.8% in favor. If approved, the measure would have increased property taxes to raise funds to pay for a projected $464 million jail.

County officials said the jail, near the Broncos Training Center in Centennial, is worn out, overcrowded, dangerous to staff and inmates, and inadequate to host modern rehabilitation programming.

Sheriff Tyler Brown also said the current facility's infrastructure is worn out, and that core functions like the kitchen and laundry are undersized for the current population.

A new facility would have incorporated more beds and expanded facilities and programming space.

Opponents of the ballot measure, made up of a coalition of community groups including the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the ACLU, said a new jail was the wrong answer to the problems the current facility faces.

Arapahoe County officials should instead focus on criminal justice reforms that reduce the overall jail population, said Juston Cooper, the director of the "NO on 1A" campaign and deputy director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

“This measure was well intended, but the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “This is the perfect opportunity to come back to the drawing board.”

Cooper spoke highly of Sheriff Brown.

“I think he's the right sheriff for Arapahoe County,” Cooper said. “I truly believe he's committed to working on mitigating problems in the jail.”

Brown said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“The voters spoke, but this doesn't fix our plumbing or electrical, or the guy being held on a DUI in a triple-bunked cell,” Brown said.

Brown said he blamed the loss not on bad messaging or a bad ballot issue, but on the overall political climate.

“What we have here is a failure to compromise,” Brown said. “We've got extreme groups digging in. Those incarcerated won't benefit.”

Still, Brown spoke highly of Cooper as well, and said he's interested in working with the groups that opposed the measure to come up with a plan.

“Juston (Cooper) and I are in phone contact, and we'll continue our efforts,” Brown said. “The men and women of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office are dedicated professionals, and we'll keep doing our best every day to provide the highest level of service to everyone — incarcerated or not.”

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