A coalition of organizations, community members, and local business owners announced today it has formed a campaign to defeat Arapahoe County Ballot Issue 1A, a measure on this fall’s ballot that would raise taxes to pay for a new jail.
Ballot Issue 1A would increase county taxes by $46 million per year to pay for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a new jail, as well as other jail-related expenses, such as equipment, supplies, and programming. The county estimates construction of the jail alone will cost $464 million, according to news reports.
The Coalition for Smarter Public Safety Spending says there are more effective and less expensive ways to accomplish 1A’s stated goals of preventing jail overcrowding and improving public safety, such as bail reform and expanding community-based prevention and treatment programs. It also released results of a survey conducted last month by Public Policy Polling that found a strong majority of Arapahoe County voters favor such alternatives over building a new jail.
When it comes to preventing jail overcrowding, seven out of 10 voters think the county should focus on reducing the jail population, while just 15% think it should build a new jail. Three out of four (77%) think the county should change bail bond practices rather than build a bigger jail. When it comes to improving public safety, nearly eight out of 10 voters (79%) agree the county would benefit more from increasing funding for community-based mental health and addiction services than it would from funding construction of a bigger jail. The PPP survey of 718 Arapahoe County voters was conducted September 13-15 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
“Rather than spending nearly half a billion dollars on a bigger jail, the county should invest in community-based programs that prevent crimes from being committed in the first place,” said Juston Cooper, director of the NO on 1A campaign and deputy director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC). As an example, he pointed to the Second Chance Center, which served as the backdrop for today’s “NO on 1A” campaign kickoff. The Aurora-based organization works to reduce recidivism and break the cycle of incarceration for future generations by providing formerly incarcerated individuals with education, resources, and support.
Funds raised by 1A could be used for jail operations that include mental health services, treatment, and recidivism prevention programs for inmates, but there is no guarantee they ever will be. The exceptionally broad and vague language of the measure would allow funds to be spent entirely on other jail-related purposes, such as construction, maintenance, and equipment.
“People should not have to go to jail to access mental health and addiction services,” Cooper said. “An overwhelming majority of voters agree Arapahoe County would be safer if it invested in more community-based services rather than building a new jail. 1A may be well-intentioned, but it is the wrong approach — Arapahoe can do better.”
The coalition lays out its case against 1A at https://VoteNo1a.com/issue-1a. It points out that the county’s existing jail is rarely full — the average daily population hovers around 75% capacity, according to recent reports — and it highlights more cost-effective ways to manage the jail population.
Specifically, the coalition cites Arapahoe County’s current bond practices, which result in many people serving time in jail only because they cannot afford to pay bail. A recent count by the Aurora Sentinel found nearly two-thirds of the jail’s inmates were pre-trial detainees who had not been convicted of a crime.
“Arapahoe could safely and significantly reduce its jail population by adopting some of the best practices that have been successfully employed by other Colorado counties,” Cooper said. He also noted that the county could reduce the number of days it holds pre-trial inmates by expanding its court schedule from five days per week to six or seven days, as other localities have.
“A lot of work is being done to address our state’s overuse of the criminal justice system and promoting prevention and treatment as alternatives to incarceration,” Cooper said. “1A would be a step in the wrong direction. If Arapahoe County builds a bigger jail, it will have less incentive to pursue smart criminal justice reforms that safely reduce the jail population, save taxpayer dollars, and improve public safety.”
Ballot Issue 1A is opposed by several of Colorado’s leading organizations working to advance criminal justice reform, civil rights, and racial justice. In addition to CCJRC, coalition members include the ACLU of Colorado, American Friends Service Committee, Colorado Black Women for Political Action, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Colorado People’s Alliance, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and the Second Chance Center.