12 Colorado sheriff's departments failed to follow new state law

The departments failed to report information on who was being held in jails per a law passed in 2019


Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

DENVER — Colorado’s largest jail is in violation of state law because it failed to report information on who is inside its walls as required by legislation passed last year.

The Denver Sheriff Department and 11 other sheriff’s offices that operate jails across the state failed to report data to the Colorado Department of Public Safety as required by law.

Colorado agencies supervising state prisons failed to follow a state data disclosure law. (Photo/TNS)
Colorado agencies supervising state prisons failed to follow a state data disclosure law. (Photo/TNS)

The law passed last year required that all jails report a variety of information, like how many inmates they hold on an average day, how many of those inmates have not yet been found guilty, and the gender and racial demographics of the jail population.

The jails were required to report their first set of data by Jan. 17. Forty-one of the state’s 53 jails turned in their data. The 12 counties that did not report by the deadline are Denver, Pueblo, Baca, Bent, Costilla, Grand, Gunnison, Huerfano, Lake, Montezuma, Saguache and San Miguel, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

The Denver Sheriff Department will report its late data to the state department in the first week of March, spokeswoman Daria Serna said.

“We fully intend to comply with the data reporting requirements; however, this is a new requirement that had not yet been fully incorporated into our workflows and as such, we missed the first deadline,” Serna said in an emailed reply to questions from The Denver Post. “We are updating our processes and commit to meeting the deadlines going forward.”

The next reporting deadline is April 17. The jails must report the data four times a year, though there is no penalty for failing to comply with the law.

Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an email that some members of the House Judiciary Committee were hesitant when crafting the legislation to include harsher penalties on a data reporting bill.

“I trust that as we approach subsequent reporting periods, there will be more complete compliance with the law,” Weissman said.

The data collection is important, he said, because it creates a single set of data that legislators can look at when talking about capacity at the state’s prisons and pre-trial reform.

The data from the jails that did report show that, on average, more than 9,700 people are incarcerated in the state’s jails on any given day. More than half of those people have not yet been convicted and are waiting in jail for court hearings because they cannot afford their bond.

About 12% of all inmates — 1,214 people — were homeless at the time of their arrests.

The law also requires jails track and report how many people died in their custody, which previously was not required under state statute. Seven people died in Colorado jails in the last three months of 2019. Three people died in the Mesa County jail and one person died in jails in Douglas, El Paso, Pitkin and Prowers counties.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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