Denver Bar Association
May 2005
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Sub-Standard Facilities No More! The Mayor's Backing of 1A

by John Hickenlooper

On May 3, you have a chance to vote Yes on 1A to build a safer and more humane Justice Center with no tax increase. This is the right solution at the right time in a neighborhood that welcomes it.

For more than a decade, Denver’s courtrooms and jail facilities have been overcrowded, unsafe and inefficient. The city jail is rated to house 158 inmates, yet consistently houses more than 200. The county jail is rated to house 1,500; yet we consistently cram in excess of 2,000 inmates into that facility. This chronic overcrowding creates inhumane and unsafe conditions that pose risks for our sheriffs’ deputies, the general public, and the inmates — many of whom have yet to be convicted.

Conditions at our jail facilities are so sub-standard that our county jail is no longer accredited. Unless we take proactive steps to positively address this situation, we risk intervention and costly mandates imposed by the federal government.

Safety and overcrowding are a daily issue for the general public and the employees at the City and County Building. Currently, handcuffed and shackled inmates walk the same hallways as victims and their families, witnesses, jurors and the general public; creating an unsafe and prejudicial environment every day.

It has been more than 70 years since we built a courthouse in Denver. As our city has grown, our courtrooms have become so overcrowded that we are spending more than $400,000 a year to lease space for courtrooms in a downtown hotel.

Last spring, I sought input from the Urban Land Institute and later appointed a task force of community members, business leaders and local experts to review the situation and make recommendations for improvements. Together we have developed a proposal for a new Justice Center with three core ideals in mind: (1) The safety of the general public and sheriffs’ deputies, (2) the just, efficient and humane processing of inmates, and (3) cost effectiveness.

Plans for the Denver Justice Center include a new 1,500-bed detention facility co-located with 37 new courtrooms downtown. The plan also includes tearing down the most antiquated buildings at the County Jail on Smith Road and replacing them with a safer, more modern building to house 384 inmates. Because the City has existing bonds that are currently being paid off, Denver can build the new Justice Center with no tax increase.

Additionally, the Mayor and City Council have earmarked a total of $9.7 million by the end of 2009 for new and meaningful diversion programs and alternatives to sentencing, to ensure that those individuals who can benefit from rehabilitation are given the chance to do so.

I ask for your support to spread the word about the need for a Justice Center, and I respectfully ask that you Vote Yes on 1A on May 3. If you are unable to vote on Election Day, absentee ballots and early voting opportunities will be available. For more information about the Justice Center proposal, please visit http://www.SafeDenver.com.

With your support, we can change the unsafe and deplorable conditions that exist within Denver’s courtrooms and jails, helping to make our city a safer place for all.

Editor’s Note: The Board of Trustees supports the new Justice Center. We recognize there are other viewpoints. We urge our members (always) to educate themselves on the issues and vote.


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