Denver judges are diverting thousands of people into programs ranging from electronic monitoring to detoxification to avoid putting them in a crowded jail, the presiding judge of Denver’s county court system said yesterday. “I will tell you (that) in the vast majority of cases, we use every alternative we can,” Judge Raymond Satter told a Denver City Council committee.
State budget cuts ave contributed to jail crowding because people charged with felonies now wait longer before being tried, he said. Since last April, felony suspects awaiting trial have accounted for 46 percent of the jail’s aily population. Some sit in the county jail for more than a year because with more felony cases, there are “less judges to try them, less staff, less resources,” Satter said. “It takes longer to try felons than it used to.”
As of yesterday, the jail held 1,811 people, 461 over capacity. Director of Corrections Fred Oliva said the population often hits 2,000 inmates. Employees struggle to accomplish such basic tasks as getting inmates in and out of a three-minute shower and finding floor space for bunk beds. Some days “we run between 500 and 600 over capacity,” he said. “We squeeze them in,” housing as many as 80 people in 32-person dorms.
Oliva expects little relief for at least five years. If a new jail site is presented to voters on the May 2005 ballot, and they approve it, the jail would open in 2009, he said.