Most of the readers of this article probably know that there are three distinct components of the criminal justice system — law enforcement, the judiciary (courts) and the correctional system (jail). If one of the three components is not functioning well, not only does it have a systematic impact to the remaining two mechanisms, but it brings the entire system out of alignment and impacts the quality of life in a community.
As the former elected sheriff of Pueblo County for 17 years, former police chief in Fountain and now owner of D.C. Private Investigations and Security Consultants, I can tell you unequivocally that unless we vote to support a new jail in November, Pueblos’ ability to prevent dangerous criminals from early release and allowing them back onto the streets to commit more crime will be no different than a communitywide vote to decriminalize certain crimes where peoples’ human rights and property rights have been violated.
In other words, when a judge metes out justice and sentences violators to jail, they are meant to stay in jail — be it 30 days or up to two years once they are sentenced, except for earned good time.
This is happening because there is no room to incarcerate offenders. So, what happens? Through a system known as “Alternatives to Incarceration,” which is currently being operated by a contract vendor, inmates are graded based upon a point system to become eligible to be released back into the community. These inmates have often been in jail before, only to be released and reoffend.
Many arrestees do and should be allowed to qualify for the alternative program. However, I believe the alternative program is lax and many of these offenders belong in jail, not on the street. But because there was no room in the jail, it becomes a revolving door, thus impacting the quality of life in our community.
In the mid-1990s, I began asking for a new jail. I suggested a jail projected to be a 800- to 900-bed facility, which then would be combined with a new judicial building for a price tag of $85 million to $90 million. The county commissioners approved a 300- to 400-bed dormitory. That was a Band-Aid approach to my problem, which is now the community’s problem.
Today, Sheriff Kirk Taylor and Commissioner Garrison Ortiz have clearly articulated the dangerous issues which not only face them as elected officials, but frankly face you, the voters. This is not a campaign to feed on your emotion; this is a campaign to inform you that there are potential liability issues that exist (for example, the Eighth Amendment, which deals with cruel and unusual punishment). This is a campaign to share with you that some people need to be taken off the streets and not allowed back into your neighborhoods to reoffend,
This is a campaign not to build a jail that resembles the Taj Mahal, but a structure that provides safety for the officers, health care workers, and yes, inmates. Often citizens will say: “I don’t care about the inmates. Let them suffer. They are guilty or they would not be in jail. I do not want my tax money going toward a jail for the benefit of the inmates.”
That statement is myopic and clouded in judgment because Pueblo has an issue driving the crime that we are now beginning to take seriously. That issue is a heroin, methamphetamine and other opiate epidemic, which I’m sure, has directly affected almost all of our families here in the community of Pueblo. This vote is not only about the inmates doing time, it is also about providing a treatment plan for the inmates while they are doing their time in jail. The linkage to crime and these drugs is undeniable.
This would be an investment in them not repeating the crime or crimes that got them in jail in the first place. The vote is where we started this article. It is about all three components functioning systematically.
A new jail would allow the police to do their jobs and know that their arrests made a difference. It is about the judges being able to structure their sentences knowing that the “Alternatives to Incarceration” program is not the first choice, but may become the second choice.
The vote is about a community that wants the laws enforced with strong judicial sentences, knowing that the judges can now put deserving offenders in jail where they belong and, if necessary, we can treat them.
Finally, it is about you, the taxpayers, who love Pueblo and want to maintain the quality of life in our community and leave our neighborhoods safe for you, your children, your parents and grandparents. It may not be a solution for all criminal problems, but we will pay for it now or pay for it later. One way or the other, it is coming.
Dan Corsentino is a former sheriff of Pueblo County.