Proposed Larimer County Jail expansion causes community backlash

Corbin Reiter

The Larimer County Board of Commissioners has proposed an expansion of the County Jail, and the community response is drastically mixed.

In the past year, there was an average of 545 people within the Larimer County Jail per day, said Sidna Rachid, an advocate for the issue, during an event held on the Colorado State University campus. Currently, the jail can hold a maximum capacity of 617 inmates, according to the Larimer County website. The proposed expansion would increase the size of the jail to 822 beds.

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On March 28, the Democratic Socialists of America and the CSU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America hosted a presentation by Rachid, who discussed the recently proposed expansion of Larimer County Jail.

The jail was built in 1983 and remains largely unchanged. The most recent renovation was done in 2014, but the fixtures are mostly originals from when the jail was built said Jim Ramirez, a sheriff lieutenant.

The proposed expansion of the jail is to meet the needs of today’s populations, Administrator for the Larimer County Jail Captain Timothy Palmer said. The Larimer County jail has run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for 35 years, and it is wearing out, Palmer said.

The Board of County Commissioners is funding the proposed expansion through a certificate of the proposal, which would allow for the bill to be passed without votes from the people living in Larimer County.  The Board’s vote on this proposal is scheduled to occur in fall 2019.

Nobody likes a bigger jail. But no one likes paltry conditions either.” – Timothy Palmer, Facility Administrator for Larimer County Jail.

“(The COP) is a debt instrument that does not require prior voter approval before issuance,” Rachid said, “It is one way that the county commissioners can expand the jail without going to the citizens of the county.”

Since 2014, there has been an increase in the overall jail population, according to the Larimer County website. From January 2014 to January 2019, the average jail population increased by 132 people, with a peak of 623 in July 2017. 

“Nobody likes a bigger jail,” Palmer said. “But no one likes paltry conditions either.”

Rachid attributes this growth as an unintended side effect of the use of the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool. 

In 2012, Colorado began to use the CPAT in order to more accurately set the bail of recently booked inmates, Rachid said. This system is used to determine how likely an arrestee is to return for their court date.

Rachid said the CPAT is a great questionnaire to use when trying to figure out if an inmate is organized enough to return to the court date. It examines whether the inmate has a cell phone, a permanent residence and past encounters with the law, among other things.

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“When you look at the CPAT if you are a homeless or transient person, you will quickly fall into level two,” Rachid said.

The higher the level that is recorded on the CPAT, the more likely it is that bail will be set at a higher rate, Rachid said.

“The hold and sentenced population have stayed pretty steady, around 200 people,” Rachid said. “The number of pretrial detention has risen and that has caused the need for the expansion of the jail.”

People that are held in the jail before their trial are more than likely unable to pay their bail, Rachid said. Only 4% of people that are held in jail before their trial are charged with non-bailable offenses, such as murder. 

While only a small percentage of people in the jail do not have the option to pay bail, Palmer said the inmates housed on a pretrial basis are predominantly held there because they are considered a danger to the community.

“Seventy-five percent of the people here on pretrial confinement are here for a felony offense,” Palmer said.

Palmer said the designs of the jail from years ago do not meet the needs of today’s population. The expansion of the jail, he said, is meant in part to serve the purpose of updating the facilities to meet the needs of modern life. This includes how people are housed and designing part of the jail with concerns of mental health in mind. 

“It is a question of how do the overcrowded and appalling conditions in the building affect the constitutional care of the inmates that are housed here,” Palmer said. “The jail is not being expanded in order to fill it with more inmates. The jail is being expanded in order to improve the living conditions for the inmates.”

Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, it was incorrectly stated that the presentation was hosted by the Division of Student Affairs Education Committee alongside YDSA; it was hosted by the Democratic Socialists for America in tandem with YDSA. This article has been updated to reflect this correction. 

Corbin Reiter can be reached at news@colllegian.com or on Twitter at @CorbinReiter.