How Denver Has Cut Its Bulging Jail Population

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Denver’s jail population is on the decline after reaching near-crisis levels last winter, and officials hope that several new practices will continue to reduce the number of people who spend time in the city’s two jails, the Denver Post reports. In February, the Denver Sheriff Department faced criticism from its deputies’ union and community activists, who said crowded conditions were prompting more violence among inmates and against staff members. In some sections of the Downtown Detention Center, inmates were sleeping on pallets on the floor. Since January, the average daily population at both jails has declined from 2,277 to 2,152 in June. “We’re getting a lot of people in a very closed area,” Sheriff Patrick Firman said. “When we can thin that out, it’s less stressful on the staff and on the inmates.”

Firman attributed the population drop to collaboration among his department, the police department, the District Attorney’s Office, judges and the Denver Crime Prevention and Control Commission. Regina Huerter of the city’s Office of Behavioral Health Strategies and Crime Prevention and Control Commission, said the first step was asking, “How do we help people not get into jail in the first place?” In response, her office created new programs, including a Clinical Intervention Response Unit that assists police officers responding to people who are having a mental health crisis. Since its creation last year, 6, co-responders, who are counselors, have contacted 1,300 people. She and the staff believe their work has helped people avoid time behind bars. The city also established an “outreach court.” Since December, 161 people have passed through the court and 74 failure-to-appear warrants were cleared, meaning those people did not go to jail. The number of people cited by police without being taken to jail has increased. Last month, 1,471 people were given citations compared with 1,258 citations written in January. Denver has joined a national movement to change how bonds are set. As a result, more people are released on personal recognizance bonds, meaning they don’t have to pay money, or are given home detention, where they’re monitored but not sitting in a cell.

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