Off Limits

The smell of success

Better yet, they could market the steel to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who fled Washington, D.C., last week, Cipro in hand. That bunch could use a little extra mettle.

Swept under the rug: "Tell them to put carpet in my cell," came the plaintive cry of one Denver City Jail resident last week, hoping to find a sympathetic ear among the voyeurs on a city-sponsored spin through the hoosegow. That tour was one of a series that Denver officials will be leading over the next ten days, in hopes that voters who take a good look around Denver's undeniably overcrowded jail facilities will sign on the dotted line for 1A. (The city jail -- where anyone arrested in Denver is processed -- can run as high as 150 percent over-capacity, the county jail on Smith Road at 55 percent over.) Now on Denver ballots, the measure would authorize $325 million in general-obligation bonds to build a new Denver Justice Center/Jail -- carpeting not included.

But 1A's proponents know that any notion of coddling inmates isn't going to sway voters. So literature now appearing in mailboxes around town pushes not how comfortable the new jail's residents would be, but how uncomfortable Denverites would be if a new jail wasn't built and between 75 and 125 inmates were released early as a result...every day. (Otherwise, the city would run the risk of violating federal laws regarding overcrowding and suffer the consequences of lawsuits that changed this state's corrections industry back in the late '70s.) But at least the inmates celebrating their early release are no Willie Horton types; this is Colorado, not Massachusetts, and the cartoony, happy crew looks more ready to party in some LoDo sports bar than commit another misdemeanor. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.)

"That was my idea," says Ken Smith of CRL Associates, which is running the pro-1A campaign. "We began discussions with a graphics artist prior to events on September 11 and went to press right about that time. It was designed to take on a very serious issue, but in a lighter way." A way that might grab the attention of even casual voters, since this election marks Denver's first use of all-mail balloting, and no one knows what might motivate a Denver resident to fill out a ballot and drop it in the mailbox. "The challenge for us is to make sure we have a strong presence in the mail and on TV," Smith adds.

Those TV ads started this past weekend; they, too, emphasize the dangers of early release, but with a more serious tone. Coupled with the fliers and the tours -- which focus not just on how overcrowded the current jails are, but the industrial nature of the proposed site -- the campaign is out to blanket the town.

Not carpet it.

Laugh of the week: Congresspeople weren't the only ones who looked a little foolish in recent days, jumping out of their seats at the mere sight of a little non-dairy creamer. In Sunday's Denver Post, Broncos tough guy Bill Romanowski announced that he won't be opening any post-September 11 fan mail (does he still get fan mail?) in light of the anthrax threat. Gee, we never knew that Romo didn't want to get packages filled with powdery white substances.

Second-best laugh of the week: Two days earlier, the Post reported that comedian David Brenner was having trouble coming up with suitably humorous topics. After all, the paper quoted him as saying, these days even that perennial favorite of punsters, George W. Bush, was a "scared cow."

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