The Denver Post found that many local jails are at, or over, capacity.
In Pueblo, the sheriff fears a riot, the Post reports.
In Boulder, the county releases convicted criminals before their sentences are complete.
In Denver, some state parole violators are turned away at the jailhouse door.
Front Range jails are full, and corrections officials say conditions inside many of the lockups are getting dangerously out of hand.
“It’s hellacious,” says Sgt. Irene Bastra, who runs Pueblo’s jail. “We’re way beyond where we should be.”
Six of 13 Front Range counties – Adams, Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Pueblo and Weld – are holding more than their maximum prisoner capacity.
Four counties – Arapahoe, Gilpin, Jefferson and Larimer – are nearly full.
The crowding leaves inmates sleeping on the floor, in hallways and offices. It means some criminals get out early, while others are turned away, sometimes with serious consequences for the public.
It means taxpayers are being asked, or soon will be, to pay for new jails and more guards at a time when the economy is weak and local governments are cutting services.
Jail crowding is a problem for many areas of the country, national experts say. Cuts in aid for the mentally ill, prisons full of offenders serving longer sentences due to mandatory sentencing laws, stiffer penalties for domestic violence and drunken driving and rocketing use of methamphetamine are commonly blamed for crowding, says Steve Ingley, executive director of the American Jail Association.
But in Colorado, tremendous population growth – the 13 Front Range counties added nearly 1 million people from 1990 to 2000 – has exacerbated the handful of societal factors normally blamed for the problem.
The result is that even rehabilitative and alternative sentencing programs such as work release, house arrest and electronic monitoring can’t hold back the flood.