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July 6, 2010

Considering alternative sentencing infrastructure in Colorado county

This interesting local article from Colorado, which is headlined "Commissioners look at alternative sentence building: Facility could ease jail pressures," provides an encouraging report showing that some communities are investing in more facilities providing alternatives to prison rather than just investing in prisons. Here are details:

Paying $10 million to boost alternative sentencing programs in the next couple of years could save Larimer County taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more down the road, officials say.

The county commissioners are considering a proposal to build a new facility near the detention center on Midpoint Drive in Fort Collins to house programs designed to keep people out of the jail while allowing them to pay their debt to society....

A new facility for the alternative sentencing department would also take pressure off the jail, which consistently houses more inmates than its funding can support, and delay the need for a costly expansion, officials say. Building a 500-bed jail would cost $70 million or $80 million.

Keeping one inmate in jail costs $125 per day, officials say. Alternative sentencing programs cost about $35 a day, with some of the cost offset by fees paid by clients to be part of the program.

A recent survey of county residents showed support for criminal justice programs that offer alternatives to jail time, Commissioner Steve Johnson said during a recent study session on the proposed facility.

Johnson said the jail and its funding is the biggest issue facing the county. "Doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “I think this is definitely the most responsible way to address the problem and still meet our responsibility to provide safety and justice in our community,” he said.

The current alternative sentencing building, a one-story structure next to the jail, was built in 1992. Because of overcrowding, conditions at the facility are “abysmal,” said Gary Darling, director of criminal justice services with the county.... Over the years, the space has been reconfigured to accommodate the growing programs. The building now has 112 work-release beds crammed into space that was meant for 32. Offices have been moved into closets and areas that once were parts of restrooms, Darling said....

Sheriff Jim Alderden told commissioners he would prefer to have them build a 500-bed jail so the department could do its duty and “lock up the bad guys.” But Alderden said he understands the county’s financial issues.

“Looking at what’s right for the community and what’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, this is the logical proposal,” he said. “You expand alternative sentencing, divert as much pressure off the jail as you can, address the programs that hopefully have an impact on the recidivism rate. “If you can stall the expansion of the jail, I think it is the fiscally responsible way to go.”

July 6, 2010 at 08:01 AM | Permalink


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