Local law enforcement officials aired public safety concerns related to inmates being turned away from the Adams County jail during a press conference Tuesday at the Thornton Police Department.
“In the last week, seven prisoners have been rejected by the sheriff who were sentenced to jail by our judges,” said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. He said these prisoners were sentenced for crimes that included shoplifting, trespassing, misdemeanor battery, motor vehicle theft and prostitution — and all had a criminal history.
“These are folks who belong in jail even for modest misdemeanor offenses,” Oates said.
Thornton, Westminster, Aurora, Commerce City and Brighton police chiefs spoke to the media at the conference.
Despite the Adams County commissioners suspending a 30-inmate cap per day for municipalities at the jail in April, the sheriff’s office is still turning away people who are sentenced, which has prompted the chiefs to go public with their concerns. When inmates are turned away due to a cap, they are typically held elsewhere based on a contract with another jail.
The cap restriction, which began on Jan. 1, 2012, was divided among nine municipalities based on population in Adams County.
Daily inmate capacity numbers were set by Sheriff Doug Darr. They are: Thornton, eight; Westminster, five; Aurora and Commerce City, four apiece; Northglenn and Brighton, three each; and one each for Federal Heights, Arvada and Bennett.
“I have public safety concerns for our residents and our businesses,” said Thornton Police Chief Randy Nelson. “What happened in Aurora can happen in any municipality in Adams County.”
Adams County enacted the jail cap because of budget issues that forced the sheriff to reduce staffing levels at the jail. Before the cap, the municipalities had an average of 130 to 140 inmates at the jail on a daily basis.
The chiefs pointed out that the cities have worked hard to reduce that average by 65 percent to 44 daily prisoners.
“I don’t know if the sheriff really appreciates the efforts we’ve made,” Nelson said.
Oates said that 30 inmates is only 2.6 percent of the county jail population and that if the cap was raised to 60, it would still only be a little more than 5 percent. On average, the jail houses between 1,100 and 1,150 inmates.
The commissioners removed the caps placed on the number of inmates sent by cities to the county jail by unanimous vote at their April 15 meeting.
In a press release, the chiefs point out that property taxes paid by Adams County residents fund the jail operations.
“However, they are not getting what they pay for in the current arrangement,” the chiefs wrote in the statement. “We demand Sheriff Darr comply with Adam County Board of County Commissioners direction and eliminate his arbitrary cap on municipal prisoners. If necessary, as an interim step, the sheriff should support using his savings from staff vacancies to pay for the housing of our prisoners in other facilities rather than releasing these dangerous prisoners in our communities.”
Oates said attorneys are looking into whether there could be litigation action against the sheriff’s office for refusing to house inmates in the county jail.
The sheriff held a press conference Wednesday, after press time. Read the June 6 issue of the Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel for continued coverage.