Pending legislation would give the Colorado Attorney General’s Office the ability to inspect and investigate complaints against county jails, The Denver Post reports. It's part of a compromise being considered by legislators as they prepare to approve statewide jail standards for the first time in the state’s history. But as they debated standards, the Jail Standards Commission found that no state agency was willing to ensure that the standards were followed by sheriffs. So they turned to the AG's office. Under the legislation, staff from the attorney general's office would participate in regular jail audits alongside inspectors working with the County Sheriffs of Colorado, a nonprofit. The office would also be able to receive complaints, release their own reports about jails’ conditions and launch investigations into any concerning and consistent practices identified in the facilities.
The new compromise came from worries about sheriffs' ability to review other sheriffs -- which was the original plan. Legislators and the commission had decided to empower a group of peer inspectors — essentially other jail and sheriff personnel, plus outside experts — to conduct regular audits on each other, without the ability to levy penalties. Though the Colorado Legislature has in recent years enacted new laws aimed at improving practices in the facilities, those laws have not included any oversight to ensure that sheriffs were following the rules, or an enforcement mechanism if they weren’t. While the peer-review model is used in four other states, it sparked concerns about sheriffs policing themselves and how the state could ensure a resistant jail was brought into compliance. One national expert told The Post that sheriffs auditing each other was her “least favorite” form of jail oversight. Now, the AG's office will attend the peer group’s regular jail audits and can release its own reports, if its findings differ from those of the peer-audit groups.