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News Archive

December 14, 2016

County Officials Review Study on Jail Overcrowding in Boulder County

The study used evidenced-based practices to examine the best use of county resources to ensure public safety and reduce recidivism

(Boulder County, Colo.) -- As part of Boulder County’s efforts to relieve
overcrowding at the Boulder County Jail and reduce recidivism, an offender
management study was commissioned by the Boulder County Commissioners to identify
areas where potential changes to current policies, practices, or laws might lead
to a long term reduction in the number of overnight stays (or “beds”) required at
the jail.

study was conducted
by Justice
Systems Partners
under contract with the Boulder County Commissioners’
Office. The intent of the study was to use evidenced-based practices to examine
the best use of county resources to ensure public safety with an additional aim
of reducing recidivism. The full report is available on the county’s website.

The goals of the
study were to:

  • Provide
    a clear data analysis on how offenders are managed across multiple systems;
  • Identify
    any gaps in resources that impact the use of the Jail (such as mental health
    and substance abuse services);
  • Assess
    the need for additional programming to help inmates whose conditions of
    sentencing rely on treatment, stable employment, or housing;
  • Look
    at areas where resources might be re-allocated to better serve at-risk
    offenders to prevent incarceration and reduce repeat offenses by the same
  • Consider
    options for moving low-risk offenders out of the jail and into community-based
    or alternative sentencing programs;
  • Take
    a look at community reentry services and jail programming and how they work to
    positively impact recidivism.

The study strongly suggests developing a strategic
plan for the county’s criminal justice system, with an interagency approach to
enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism. This would feature the
increased use of risk-based assessments for inmates, rather than basing
incarceration primarily on criminal charges. The findings and recommendations
of the report fall into three main categories: system coordination and strategic planning; evidence-based decision making and case
processing; and updated programs
and other interventions.

Public officials in Boulder County, including the
County Commissioners, the Boulder County Sheriff, and the Boulder District
Attorney agree that the study is a good first step in identifying what could
prove to be more effective and efficient ways to managing the inmate population
in Boulder County.

Based on the report, the county will move forward with
additional discussions with elected officials, staff, criminal justice system partners, judges,
and contracted vendors to
determine which of the recommendations should be further studied
and what additional steps are needed to implement those recommendations.

Statements from Boulder County Elected Officials

“We are
excited to have this report as we strive to work collaboratively to determine
how best to manage our inmate population with an eye to the safety of our
public and our staff who work in the jail as well as to accomplish our overarching
goal of reducing recidivism,” said Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner. “This study
is a solid step forward in helping us to identify and implement the appropriate
policies, services, and practices for addressing the needs and impacts of those
in our community who are involved in Boulder County’s community justice system,
with a special emphasis on preventing repeat offenses.”

“We are pleased to have this guidance in regard to
long-term, or strategic planning,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. “There
are a number of proposals in this package, which will take time and patience to
develop. However, the hope is to curb the projected growth in our jail
population and get offenders placed in appropriate levels of supervision and

Pelle added, “The Commissioners are also working with
us to develop some more immediate solutions to jail crowding in order to
relieve some of the acute crowding and staffing problems we have been dealing
with recently. My hope is that between immediate solutions and long term
strategic planning, the crowding and staffing issues at the jail will become an
issue of the past.”

“The 20th Judicial District Attorney's Office very
much appreciates the commitment of the Boulder County Commissioners to
carefully evaluate the continuing problem of jail capacity with this study,”
said Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. “Public safety in any community
requires a centrally-located jail with sufficient capacity to house dangerous
defendants. At the same time, an effective offender management program should
also include meaningful programs for rehabilitation and re-integration of
offenders with less serious charges with the intent of preventing repeat offenses.
I look forward to working with the Commissioners, the Sheriff, and other
justice system partners to implement both short term and long term solutions
for more effectively managing the county’s inmate population.”


The incarceration
rate in Boulder County has nearly tripled in the past 30 years, growing at a rate
faster than both the state and the nation as a whole. For the past several years,
the County Commissioners’ Office, Sheriff’s Office, and the Boulder District
Attorney’s Office have been looking at ways to both ensure the safety of the
general population while also looking at options for relieving the pressure on
jail services from a growing inmate population at the Boulder County Jail.

Through a
program of alternative sentencing, work release, probation, and other programs,
the Boulder County Jail currently maintains an average of 470 inmates even
though the jail was originally designed to hold 287 inmates. With double
bunking, the jail can accommodate a capacity of 560 inmates. However, industry
standards recommend operating at no more than 80% of capacity, which translates
to an optimal functioning level of no more than 480 beds.

Dates of the Study

The overall
study took place from February to October, 2016. Pretrial supervision and
probation intakes were surveyed for one month beginning in March. On March 15,
a snapshot study of the county justice system was taken that included all incarcerated
inmates, individuals in the various diversion, day reporting and work release
programs, and clients in the Boulder and Longmont Community Treatment Centers.