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Mar 10

Proposed Legislation Raises Public Safety Concerns

Posted on March 10, 2021 at 2:02 PM by Renie Dugwyler

During the current state legislative session, Senate Bill 21-062 was introduced as one of several bills focused on criminal justice reform, specifically the justice system’s “over-reliance on incarceration” as described by the bill’s sponsors. While the bill offers some positive changes, I believe it will have a negative impact on crime in Jefferson County if approved as written. In its current form, the bill effectively eliminates the ability to incarcerate individuals for class 4, 5, or 6 felony offenses.

Originally drafted as “Jail Depopulation,” then introduced as “Concerning Measures to Reduce Jail Populations,” the bill has now been retitled “Concerning Measures to Safely Reduce Jail Populations by Amending Procedures Prior to Convictions.” This misnomer is disingenuous because under the new bill, individuals who commit felonies like burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, disarming a peace officer, and arming rioters would be issued a court summons and would remain on the streets. To illustrate, the individuals who committed the most egregious actions during recent events on The Hill in Boulder would not be subject to arrest and incarceration if the bill becomes law in its current form.

Therefore, I am insisting legislators amend the bill to grant law enforcement officers the discretion to arrest and incarcerate for any felony charge. Without this modification, I am opposed to the bill. And I hope you will also contact your state senator and state representative to share your opinion on the implications of this legislation.

In 2020, crime increased in Jefferson County by 12% as a result of temporarily implementing heightened arrest standards in an effort to reduce the jail population during COVID-19. Under the proposed legislation, crime would continue to increase because the bill permanently adopts those same high arrest standards.

In January 2020, the Jefferson County jail’s operational capacity was 1148. By May, we had lowered capacity to 658, to comply with the CDC’s and local and state public health guidelines for correctional and detention facilities during COVID. Senate Bill 21-062 would lower the inmate population even further, but not as a temporary measure to ensure the health and welfare of inmates and staff during a global pandemic. Rather, as a “get out of jail free” pass for many felony criminals.

I agree it is prudent and responsible to take a hard look at who is being held in our jails and why. And over the past year we did just that to reduce the inmate population by 43%. Initially, we worked with the judiciary and local law enforcement agencies to

  • Release inmates early who had served at least half their sentence for non-violent crimes that did not involve the Victims’ Rights Act
  • Arrange for in-home detention for qualifying work release inmates
  • Review and revise bond amounts and conditions for pre-trial inmates when appropriate
  • Avoid arrests for low-level warrants when possible to limit new inmate bookings

Eventually, however, restricting new bookings to an even greater extent was necessary to keep the inmate population manageable during the pandemic. Therefore, on March 31, 2020, I temporarily enhanced arrest standards. But as COVID cases have decreased in the county, I have loosened those restrictive standards to now allow for any felony arrest, and we have increased jail capacity to 760. We made these necessary adjustments because crime has increased throughout the county. In its current form, Senate Bill 21-062 makes restrictive arrest standards permanent without addressing the increase in crime that will result.

While it is responsible to review and on occasion modestly revise the criminal justice system’s incarceration practices, it is irresponsible to remove discretionary decisions from law enforcement officers. Taking away the ability to arrest and incarcerate for any felony crime jeopardizes public safety and sends the wrong message to the individuals committing those crimes. With modifications to Senate Bill 21-062, the bill will still achieve its intent to incarcerate those individuals who belong in jail, and law enforcement agencies will still accomplish their duty to preserve the public’s safety. Unmodified, however, we do neither and I will oppose the legislation.

Sheriff Jeff Shrader

 Jeff Shrader, Sheriff

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office

 Jeff Shrader, Sheriff

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office