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The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff’s Office have been working on this problem for several years. While the jail has been maintained the best it could be, the cost of maintenance has been eating away at the total dollars Arapahoe County has to invest in all its facilities. Over the last decade, the County had to spend 20% of its maintenance budget on just the two buildings (jail and courthouse) at the Justice Center. It has now reached the point where it no longer makes sense to continue pouring money into “band aid” fixes at the jail. There comes a time in the life of any facility when you have to face the fact that it no longer is big enough, structurally sound enough, or safe enough to serve its purpose.
The Board of County Commissioners authorized the development of a Master Plan for the Arapahoe County Justice Center in 2019. It was prepared by the independent firm of Reilly Johnson Architecture, which specializes in the planning and design of justice facilities, especially jails and courts. The Master Plan for the Arapahoe County Justice Center includes detailed design and construction requirements for the phases of the project, along with specific cost estimates.
First, we’re simply running out of room. It was built to hold 386 inmates and now houses more than 1,100. Unlike a house, you just can’t “pop the top” and add new cells. The jail’s original design placed centralized facilities such as the laundry and kitchen in the center of the facility, so there is no way to expand those areas, creating real challenges. Second, the wear and tear on your house is nothing like the treatment a jail undergoes 24/7. And third, the jail's infrastructure--plumbing, sewage and electrical--can no longer handle the stress of the hundreds of additional occupants. So while 30 years may not seem old for a house, but in “jail years” it has far surpassed its useful life.
The County Commissioners are well aware that citizens are concerned about congestion and pavement condition. As we work toward a solution for the old jail, we are simultaneously looking for ideas and solutions to deal with traffic. The County is in the process of updating its transportation plan and establishing priorities for projects. In many ways, transportation is more complicated than the jail or court house. Transportation funding comes for a number of different sources, including federal and state, and projects often involve many different jurisdictions. But we are moving ahead with transportation and expect an updated plan to be available in 2020.
The LRPC is a citizen-based committee created to provide input and recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on the County’s priorities –specifically the Justice Center and transportation. The committee consists of 25 residents, business leaders, and non-profit representatives and met throughout the summer. At its meeting on August 6, the committee initially recommended that the County replace the old jail with a safe, modern facility. The committee also recommended a small increase in the property tax to fund the improvement, recognizing the capital and ongoing costs are an expense that the current and projected County budget cannot absorb. The committee will continue to evaluate infrastructure needs including transportation and the courthouse.
Ultimately, that depends on you. The Board of County Commissioners will take into consideration any recommendations from the Long Range Planning Committee regarding funding. The Commission also will be looking for input from citizens. Comments can be sent to email@example.com. If the Commission decides to place some sort of tax measure on the ballot, then voters of course will make the final decision.
We live and work in Arapahoe County. Many of us have children who are attending or who have attended schools in the County. The Sheriff and the Board of County Commissioners agree that school safety is a critical need and we will be working together to do all we can to keep our schools safe. These are difficult discussions and hard decisions. They require coordination between all the school districts and cities and towns within the county. Your ideas are important to us as we move forward. We welcome your thoughts. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The primary source of revenue for Arapahoe County is property tax. This revenue funds most of the county’s programs and services. Arapahoe County has some of the lowest property taxes in the state. And the County government keeps only about 15% of what it collects to provide County services and infrastructure. The rest goes to schools (57%), cities and towns (7%), and special districts like fire and water. (22%).
Based on earlier proposals to renovate the old jail, we estimate it will cost nearly the same as building a new facility. That’s because all of the plumbing would have to be replaced, and most of the pipes are encased in concrete. All electrical would have to be replaced as well. There is also the problem of not being able to expand the current kitchen and laundry. Those facilities – designed for 386 inmates – are struggling to serve more than 1,100 today and they are “landlocked” – in a center hub surrounded by the housing pods. Also, any renovation would entail frequent movement of prisoners to accommodate construction and that creates safety problems. And after all that, if you don’t add new space in a new building, you still don’t have room to provide the necessary medical care, mental health and substance abuse programs for inmates to help reduce the number of repeat offenders.
The proposal for the new facility is part of a multi-step effort to make sure Arapahoe County spends taxpayer resources wisely while making public safety a priority. At any given time, some 40% of the inmates (450) are experiencing mental health issues. That’s more than the total number of inmates the jail was originally designed to hold. The old jail lacks space for dealing with mental health issues, alcohol and drug abuse, medical problems and programs to help reduce recidivism. All of these programs would be expanded and available with the new facility.
The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners are well aware that citizens are concerned about congestion and pavement condition. As we work toward a solution for the old jail, we are simultaneously looking for ideas and solutions to deal with traffic. The County is in the process of updating its transportation plan and establishing priorities for projects. It will kick off a regional planning process through the Arapahoe County Transportation Forum to seek solutions and form a plan. In many ways, transportation is more complicated than the jail or courthouse. Transportation funding comes from a number of different sources, including federal and state, and projects often involve many different jurisdictions. But we are moving ahead with transportation and expect an updated plan to be available in 2020.
The Committee supported expanding public safety programs, including programs that address mental health disorders and substance abuse; alternative sentencing programs to keep non-violent and first time offenders out of jail; and operating programs to reduce the likelihood of inmates re-offending when they reenter to community.
Design and construction would not begin unless a funding plan is approved and in place. The Board of County Commissioners requested staff develop a 10-year master plan for the judicial center – including the jail and courthouse – that was completed in January 2019. The plan provides the commissioners with a concept for how the Judicial Center campus could be structured to accommodate current needs and future growth. Conceptual design has been completed for the jail to provide initial cost and programming estimates.
A poll was conducted in 2018 to help determine how much citizens know about their county, how they feel about the level of county services, preferred methods of communication, and how they view the quality of life in Arapahoe County overall. A second poll was conducted in July 2019 to provide additional input from citizens concerning the Justice Center complex and to gauge citizen reaction to various methods to finance future improvements to the facilities at the complex.