While jails and courthouses in Denver and Jefferson counties might look like Taj Mahals, rural counties (and Pueblo) are having a difficult time paying the high cost of crime. That’s why Sens. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, are running a bill to send some money their way.
Coram chaired an off-session committee that’s looking at several bills to help fund improvements and make sure the state isn’t sticking it to local taxpayers by failing to pick up its prisoners for weeks.
The 120-day legislative session began Wednesday, and Coram said the bipartisan committee is proposing legislation to make $30 million a year in grants and loans available for five years to help counties finance jail and courthouse construction or expansion.
While most counties are doing fine on capacity versus daily inmate population, some are struggling and need more space. Pueblo, for instance, has a capacity of 509 inmates but has an average daily population of 770 inmates, members of the committee were told. Alamosa County is supposed to house up to 995 prisoners, but must hold between 140 and 150 inmates a day, according to a report to the legislature from Colorado Counties Inc.
Meanwhile, wealthier Denver and Jefferson counties average fewer inmates than a full house each day.
“The Department of Corrections is not picking up inmates in a timely manner,” Coram said. “In two counties, Denver and Jefferson, they pick up within 72 hours. In some other counties it can take 30 days or more.”
The state pays counties $54 a day for each inmate until he or she is picked up and taken to prison. The cost to the local jail is twice that, so local taxpayers have to cover the difference for the state, Coram said. Another proposed bill would raise that rate to $108.78 per day per inmate.
“Every day they leave them in county jail it saves them money,” said Coram, referring to the Department of Corrections. “We have a lot of counties that can’t afford to do that.”
Garcia requested the study committee last session, citing the problems for cash-strapped counties. In Pueblo, voters last November rejected a sales tax hike to pay for a jail expansion.
Coram pointed out that in Archuleta County the jail has been closed since flooding in 2015, and the courts closed in September as a result of noxious odors and unexplained illnesses.
“The prisoners all go from Pagosa (Springs) to Durango,” he said. “That’s 60 miles each way. And they just don’t have the money to do it, so we put a bill together to put some money into these rural counties that have got to have some help on this.”
Besides Coram, other members of the study committee were Sens. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, along with Reps. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City, Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City.