No Vacancy at the El Paso County Jail

The most populous county in Colorado today announced that due to jail overcrowding, until further notice the sheriff will no longer incarcerate people who are arrested on misdemeanor charges – unless they are acting violent or have no permanent address. “This action is regrettable, however, due to the increasing inmate population at CJC it has become necessary for the safety and welfare of Sheriff’s Office employees working inside the facility, as well as for the safety and welfare of the inmates,” said El Paso County’s Lt. Clif Northam in a written statement.

Jail overcrowding and exploding inmate populations are ongoing problems not just in the southern Colorado county but across the state. According to the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition’s 2006 report on Colorado’s perpetual prison crisis, this year the Colorado Department of Corrections indicated that it will also run out of prison bed space for men and women this year.

According to the report, Colorado’s total prison population is projected to grow from 21,000 to over 29,000 by 2011, a 41% increase. The women’s prison population is projected to grow 71% during that same time. Similarly, the DOC parole population is also projected to increase dramatically to over 8,000 by 2011.

Even if all of these prison expansion projects were completed, in 2011, the State will be in the same position as it is today because the construction expansion plans will only pace prison population growth, not exceed it. Between 1992-2004, Colorado’s average annual prison population growth rate of 7% far exceeds the national average of 4.3%. Between this time period, Colorado also has the highest annual growth rate in our immediate region, including Kansas (3.4%), Oklahoma (3.8%), Wyoming (5.3%), New Mexico (5.7%), Arizona (5.8%), and Utah (6.9%).

El Paso County’s current jail population is 1,508, near capacity. Over the past decade, the number of people incacerated has steadily increased. In 2004, the number of inmates in the Southern Colorado jail averaged 1,204 a day – far more than what its Criminal Justice System was designed to handle at the time. As a result, some inmates were housed in dayrooms, and forced to sleep side-by-side in plastic “sledbeds.” Just a year and a half ago, the jail was expanded by 864 beds.

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Cara Degette

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