Jailbait

Denver's entire law-enforcement community seems to think we need a bigger house. But a few holdouts say that first we need wiser law enforcement

Cherner says he's also observed the cops' overzealous attitude.
"The cops see an arrest as a shock method," says Cherner. "They see it as keeping peace on the streets, but it's really more along the lines of, 'Fuck with me and you go to jail.'"

Simonet is reluctant to say that frivolous arrests by the police might be contributing to overcrowding at his jails. In the past, however, he has made efforts to hold back the tide of potential prisoners Denver cops were bringing in. At one point several years ago, he put a sheriff's sergeant at the booking station downtown to screen arrests.

"I wanted to review every arrest to make sure that it was serious enough to warrant being booked into jail for," says Simonet, "but the DPD division chief went to the director of safety and said that we couldn't legally do that. Even though it didn't work that time, I still think we could do it, and it could have a positive effect on overcrowding."

Simonet says he didn't intend for officers to stop arresting people just because he couldn't hold them. Handling what's sent to him is his job. And, he adds, "even if we did set up a screening station again, it'd only help us at the downtown jail. Last year we booked in about 60,000 people, and only 18,000 of them ended up coming out to county."

Speeding up the process downtown would be a good first step as far as Cherner is concerned. Comito says getting somebody booked and released on bond can take anywhere from four to fifteen hours, depending on the sheriff's work load. Comito blames a lot of this delay on the decentralized setup of the downtown facility, which relies on information coming in from several different agencies in order to properly identify suspects.

Cherner says the situation has become so bad at the downtown facility that he's started to take clients with arrest warrants to other counties to be booked.

"I've done it a couple of times if my client hasn't been apprehended and I'm aware of the fact that a warrant has been issued for their arrest," says Cherner. "I know other lawyers who have done it as well. You can walk into the downtown jail with your client and bond money, and it'll still take fifteen hours. I take them out to the suburbs and it takes two hours and the guys working at the jail are apologetic about it."

But some people can't even make bond anymore, according to public defender Reynolds, because of a new bond schedule that was set in June 1996.

"Bonds on minor cases are now being set at an extraordinarily high rate," says Reynolds. "For example, crimes in which a deadly weapon is involved now carry a $50,000 bond. Before, a Class 5 felony carried a $2,000 bond.

"I'm not saying violent offenders shouldn't be in jail, but under this bond schedule, you've got first-time offenders who get into little scraps or your basic bar brawls lumped in with serious criminals. You can't differentiate between a bar brawl and a serious assault the way it is now. So these people end up sitting in jail for one, two, sometimes three months before they go before a judge and have their cases dismissed or accept a plea bargain. These are putative bonds that are being set."

Reynolds says she complained about the higher bonds to the judge who oversees them. The judge told her the best way to present her case against the new bonds to other judges was to approach it from an overcrowding perspective. The bond schedule has yet to change.

In contrast to Denver's throwback county jail and its claustrophobic downtown pre-arraignment facility, the Arapahoe County jail is a spit-shined example of modern justice.

Captain Frank Henn, the Arapahoe County sheriff who runs the 752-bed county jail, calls his jail a "full-service justice center."

In Denver, prisoners are booked and then tossed into crowded off-the-street tanks until they're either released or transferred to another jail cell. In the Arapahoe jail, which was built in 1987, suspects sit, sometimes uncuffed, in plastic chairs while they're booked. The booking area looks and feels more like a hospital waiting room than a detention facility.

Arapahoe uses interactive TV for prisoners' court appearances, medical consultations and family visits, while Denver shuttles prisoners by bus to and from the county jail.

And as Henn leads a tour through the jail pods--all of which are set up just like the coveted 22 at the Denver County Jail--he points to the polished floors with obvious pride and runs a finger along ledges, looking for dust like a stuffy British maid. In every hallway, prisoners are scrubbing the walls and polishing the floor.

Even the public waiting room in the Arapahoe County jail is starkly different from its Denver counterpart. In Denver, the TV blares The Jerry Springer Show at a painfully high volume. At Arapahoe County, visitors watch an old Clark Gable film while waiting for people to be released.

Henn says on a slow day, a suspect can be processed and released in half an hour.

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