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Colorado Prison and Jail Populations Now Higher Than Before Pandemic

After making policy changes to lower their inmate populations, Colorado state prisons and some county jails are back to average daily populations higher than those they saw before COVID-19. Colorado Department of Corrections spokesperson Annie Skinner said there has been an uptick in prison populations. “During the course of the pandemic our population numbers dropped due to a variety of factors including the pause/reduction in court proceedings and the need to limit transports from jails to prison to reduce the risk of introducing COVID into our prisons from the county jails,” Skinner said. She said the state temporarily suspended intake of prisoners from county jails while developing “robust protocols/requirements” for jails. She said this change helped the state properly quarantine and test inmates before sending them to another facility, News from the States reports.


Skinner said the increase in the incarcerated population was expected with the criminal justice system back to normal operations and catching up on the backlog of cases. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has returned to arrest standards similar to those the department used before COVID. While the stronger COVID restrictions were in place, some people who committed more serious offenses were issued a ticket instead of booked into jail, and many defendants have “a number of failure to appear warrants,” Pelle said. Now the jail is getting more backed up by individuals with multiple warrants. Taylor Pendergrass of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said there were already too many incarcerated people pre-COVID, so seeing jail and prison populations going back to these numbers and higher is concerning. In Douglas County, Undersheriff Dave Walcher said officials never changed their arrest or jailing standards because of the pandemic. “At times, just like every other jail, we saw our COVID numbers come up and down, but we made a philosophical decision of we want bad guys in jail, and we’ll have to deal with COVID.” The county has seen an increase in average daily population in its jails to levels higher than pre-COVID. Douglas County nearly has 80 percent of its beds occupied, making one guard responsible for 30 or 40 inmates as opposed to the typical 15-25.

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