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February 2004

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New sentencing option should ease jail crowding

By Dan MacArthur

Corrections official are taking a new approach in attempting to hold back the rising tide of criminals overflowing the county jail and alternative sentencing unit.

A combination work release and community service program will begin this month in an effort to whittle the lengthy list of those waiting for alternative sentencing programs.

It is the latest effort to deal with cramped correctional facilities following voter rejection of a November ballot issue seeking a 0.4 percent sales and use-tax increase to finance expansion of the alternative sentencing unit.

While the new effort will provide some relief, County Commissioner Kathay Rennels said it simply buys a little more time until the county is forced to deal with the costly question of jail crowding.

"Something's got to give," Rennels said. "This is a long-term problem that requires a long-term fix."

A new mid-week program will enable offenders to keep their jobs while serving their sentences and performing community service work, according to Larimer County Sheriff's Lt. Debbra Russell.

She said inmates can work or attend school before being confined to the alternative sentencing unit facility on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. Then on Saturday, they'll be assigned to a workenders crew performing community service work.

Inmates will pay $10 a day for participation in the combination program. The revenues will help offset the $529,165 the county commissioners appropriated for 2004 to hire the additional staff required to expand the program and relieve the backlog.

Up to 40 inmates will be accepted into the combination program. Russell said it should provide relief for the completely packed Saturday program. She said it should also help reduce the three- to four-month delay for the 450 awaiting spots in the workender program and the five-month delay for the 100 in line for the work release program.

"It definitely is going to help move more people through, but more people are being sentenced," Russell said.

Her contention was supported by statistics recently presented to the county Criminal Justice Advisory Board showing that jail activity last year continued to increase at an exceptional rate.

While the county's population increased by 2 percent in 2003 over the previous year, jail bookings were up almost 11 percent and the average daily jail population increased nearly 16 percent. Since 1987, the county's population has increased 54 percent while bookings increased 107 percent and the average daily prisoner population jumped by 269 percent.

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