Solutions for Denver's Overcrowded Jail

October 1 2005, 2:18 PM

Denver's overcrowded County Jail has reached the danger point.

Currently, inmates at the city jail live in an 8ft. by 7ft. room, designed to accommodate one person. Because of overcrowding, 3 to 4 people stay in there now. "[There are] people sleeping on a bunk, under a bunk and on the floor, there is no activity and there is no way to get away from each other," said Chief William Lovingier from the Denver sheriff's department. The second floor of the jail is supposed to house 58 people, but officials said 164 inmates live there. "It's not safe, both for the prisoners, nor for the officers," said Lovingier.

Tents are being proposed as a temporary solution, with Mayor Hickenlooper's blessing. Officials seem clueless as to why the inmate population is so high.

Hickenlooper said it would take city officials several weeks to figure out more specifically what is driving the sudden increase in the inmate population. "There is obviously something going on here," Hickenlooper said. "This hasn't happened before.

I have a solution. Stop housing federal pre-trial detainees at the County Jail. When persons charged with federal crimes are detained without bond pending trial, the U.S. Marshal's Service is charged with deciding where they will be held. Because of space limitations, the Federal Detention Center in Englewood can't accomodate them all. So, the feds contract with local jails to house the overflow, for a daily fee per inmate. Some go to Jeffco, some to Georgetown, some to the Denver County Jail. Also, since there is no local federal facility for female detainees, they go to local jails as well, usually winding up in at Denver County facility. Federal detainees can be in jail a year or more before trial, particularly in complex drug cases. That's too long a time to spend in the Denver County jail. I now have a client who has been there since last December -- as have several co-defendants in the case. It's unsafe -- particularly when some of these defendants decide to cooperate against others and are not housed separately. Also, it contributes to the jail's overcrowding problem. I think Mayor Hickenlooper should consider returning the federal detainees to federal authorities. It won't solve the jail overcrowding problem, but it's a start and it would help the situation

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