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Jefferson County enacts new policies to manage jail population

Sheriff Jeff Shrader says his budget was cut by millions of dollars this year, so his department has had to adjust how many inmates they can handle at the jail.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — The Jefferson County Sheriff Department has a plan in place to manage jail population numbers this year.

But Sheriff Jeff Shrader said he doesn’t like his options.

“I’m concerned. I believe people should be concerned,” he said Friday.

Last year, Shrader announced his department would be facing significant budget cuts in 2020. In order to continue operating the jail in that county, he would have to make some changes in order to house fewer inmates.

RELATED: Jefferson County Detention Facility to reduce jail capacity, staffing to meet budget cuts

First, the Sheriff decided to close an entire floor of the jail which reduced the jail population by more than 200 beds. He also had to cut 51 positions in his department, a process he said started last year through attrition. Shrader said no employees lost their job over the budget cuts.

Shrader said his department has also moderated its contract with the US Marshals Service.

“I believe that it's far more important to make sure there’s adequate jail space for local criminal justice issues,” he explained. “Both for the courts and law enforcement officers working the street.”

Now, the new operational capacity in the jail is 1148, and the sheriff said he’ll allow that number to remain within a 2% margin (1170) before taking additional action.

So far in 2020, these steps have been enough to keep the current inmate population at a manageable level. Shrader said this time of year, around the holidays, it's not uncommon for the inmate population to drop off, slightly.

But just two weeks into the new year – it’s already tight.

“We have been above, the last couple days, the operational capacity of 1148,” Shrader said Friday. “We have not yet hit that 2% margin that would trigger the early releases that need to happen, but that could, in effect, happen as early as this weekend or Monday.”

RELATED: JeffCo Sheriff's Office says it may have to reduce jail capacity by 44% to meet budget cuts

“Early releases” are one of the next steps the Sheriff’s Office said they will take, if needed. Some inmates serving time for convictions could be released early. Previously, Jefferson County said that program would start with the inmates who have already served the greatest portion of their sentence, and at least 50% of their sentence, and are legally eligible for early release.

It's an option Shrader said he doesn’t like.

“It undermines the authority of the court, it undermines the authority of the judge," he said. "It doesn’t tell people what the real penalty for what they did is, and ultimately it undermines, in particular, what victims of crimes see of the criminal justice system.”

If the inmate population grows so large that early releases, alone, don’t free up enough beds, then the Sheriff’s Office said they will consider the next option: enhanced arrest standards.

On Friday, Shrader said the jail population reached 1,153 – still within the 2% margin of operational capacity. Manageable for now, he said, but its only a matter of time.

“When we get into the spring, and especially into the summer, we will see the high points," he said. "That’s when this system, and these policies, will truly be put to the test.”

“And those are the times I get most concerned.”

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