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

But the Arapahoe County jail only sees about 15,000 people a year, while the Denver jail processes about 60,000.

Still, Henn says, "you've really got to look at the age of Denver's facility and management style to understand why things move so slow over there. All of the jails around the metro area are overcrowded, but we're built to deal with it.

"Another thing that helps, which Denver is missing, is the fact that we're a full-service agency. Eighty percent of our road deputies are former detention deputies, and because of that, we've developed a rapport between the two groups. Our road deputies understand the problems inherent with a detention facility. As a result, we're not out there nitpicking. If a patrol officer brings somebody in here, we know they're justified. You don't bring a guy in to this facility because they were jaywalking and got smart with the officer writing them a ticket.

"It wasn't always like that. When I started working out here in 1983, we had some of the same friction that Denver has between the police officers on the street and the sheriffs working in the jail. Patrol officers would walk in to the jail and didn't look at the guy working at the jail as another law-enforcement officer. They looked at you like you were a jailer."

When considering a criminal-justice center like the one in Arapahoe County, Comito wistfully recalls his visit to a similar facility in Tampa, Florida. He talks about how inmates were processed while they were sitting in chairs instead of fifty-person tanks.

"People say that prisoners don't deserve nice facilities," says Comito, "but you've got to look how it affects the stress level for both inmates and officers. A great example of this, which I saw in Tampa, was that they had been open for a year when I visited and they'd had a total of five fights. I have five fights, at least, every week. That's the result of throwing somebody who's already agitated into a tank with forty or fifty other agitated people, all of whom have been waiting for hours to get out.

"You don't build jails like the ones we have here in Denver anymore. You build a facility where every aspect of detention--from booking to court--takes place on the campus. You use the technology we have today instead of building cells with three walls and a door.

"These old facilities we have now are disasters waiting to happen."
The consultants from the NACJP saw this when they studied Denver's overcrowding problem, but they still don't believe a new jail is going to solve all of Denver's problems.

"The jail want in Denver is very pronounced," says Cunniff, "but they want to start with the solution and work backwards from there. The city needs to look at its policies and how they're affecting the jails. But every time I started talking about that, I just got big, blank stares from them."

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