29 January 2010

Denver Jail Population Down

Denver City Councilman At Large Doug Linkhart has worked steadily and quietly behind the scenes to reduce the City's reliance on incarceration. His efforts have paid off.

Voters approved $378 million in 2005 to build a new courthouse, downtown jail and to build a new facility at what is known as the county jail on Smith Road. . . .

Five years ago, Denver's jails were so crowded that officials had to erect a tent to house prisoners. Now, thanks to reductions in the time it takes to get inmates before judges and the creation of a drug court and early-release programs, the average daily number of inmates at the jails has declined by about 300. On Wednesday, Denver housed 2,008 inmates.

The city will open a new downtown, 1,500-bed jail later this year. Another 1,634 beds exist at the Smith Road facility, and the city plans in June to start spending $25 million in bond money to build another 256-bed facility at Smith Road and tear down antiquated buildings there that house 500 of the inmates.

Linkhart has floated the idea of not building the new 256 bed facility at Smith Road and using the money allocated for it elsewhere (or not spending the money earmarked for it at all). Thus, rather than reducing the capacity of the Smith Road facility by 246 beds, its capacity would be reduced by 500 beds after the new downtown jail opens. Corrections officials, obviously, don't support the idea, because they prefer to have less crowded jails, which are easier to manage.

There is also the concern that the reduction in the number of inmates held may not be permanent. Another reason that the jail is not as crowded now is that crime has fallen significantly in Denver over the last five years. But, it may be decades until funds are available for another jail expansion and Denver's population hasn't stopped growing.

I doubt that Denver will change its plans for the Smith Road facility. But, the fact that this is even a choice for Denver is a good sign.

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