Seventh floor of Jeffco jail reopened to house inmates exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms

36 inmates are being housed in isolated cells

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/26/20

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has reopened a portion of the seventh floor of the county jail and is using it to house inmates that are showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. JCSO Public …

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Seventh floor of Jeffco jail reopened to house inmates exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms

36 inmates are being housed in isolated cells

Posted

Updated 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 1

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shraeder announced on Tuesday that he is taking two additional law enforcement actions with the aim of addressing the spread of COVID-19.

First, Shrader announced that he is deputizing all certified law enforcement officers that are employed by and in good standing with law enforcement agencies in Jefferson County. That move will officers will allow officers to carry out law enforcement duties throughout the county when requested by another officer.

According to Shrader's order, that action is intended to facilitate the sharing of resources between agencies and maximize law enforcement's ability to keep communities safe under the current unprecedented circumstances presented by COVID-19.

The second action involves the adoption of new arrest standards for both the sheriff's office and local law enforcement agencies in Jeffco.

Under the new arrest standards, several types of arrests will no longer be accepted by the jail. Those types of arrests include misdemeanor and municipal arrests, unless they involve charges requiring advisement under the Victims’ Rights Act, and traffic-related warrant arrests.

County court or municipal warrant arrests will also not be accepted unless the crime is addressed by the Victim's Rights Act. Crimes that fall under the Victim’s Rights Act include murder, sex assault, child abuse, domestic violence and kidnapping.

First-time DUI arrests will also not be accepted unless “no reasonable alternative can be found.” Arrests for non-violent felonies will only be accepted if there is a direct threat to public safety.  Arrests on felony warrants will be accepted but the Sheriff's Office is urging officers to use discretion in making such arrests and to take into account the underlying original violation.

While the new arrest standards remain in effect, people who have an outstanding warrant are encouraged to contact the jurisdiction from which the warrant was issued and arrange a court date to address the charges.

"While these actions are not ideal, we have to make preparations and take preventative measures to best ensure the public's safety as well as that of first responders," Shraeder said in a statement. "I am confident any peace officer in the county can work effectively in any agency's jurisdiction to enforce the new arrest standards and help ensure Jefferson County remains safe for everyone."

The new standards will remain in effect until May 31, unless discontinued or extended. Shraeder they were developed in collaboration with Jeffco agencies during meetings between him and chief officers of local agencies.

Updated March 31

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has reopened a portion of the seventh floor of the county jail and is using it to house inmates that are showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

JCSO Public Information Officer Michael Taplin said the jail has reopened two modules on the seventh floor — one for men and one for women — after the floor was closed at the start of the year as a result of county budget cuts.

As of March 30, 31 inmates are being housed in isolation at the jail related to COVID-19. However, Taplin said just two of those inmates are showing a symptom of the disease while the rest are being held there because of inmates with either inmates or people in the community who have showed symptoms. That number of inmates in isolation related to COVID-19 is up from three on March 16 but down from 36 on March 24. Unlike in the rest of the jail, all inmates being housed on the seventh floor are isolated in individual cells.

Taplin said inmates are being moved to the seventh floor if they exhibit any of the identified symptoms of COVID-19, which include coughing, a fever and respiratory issues. They are recommended for test if they exhibit more than one of the symptoms. So far, one JCSO inmate has been tested for the virus but results have not been received back due to a testing backlog. However, that inmate has since bonded out of jail.

In an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the jail, the Sheriff's Office also announced on March 19 that it would release all inmates who have served a minimum of 50 percent of their sentence for non-violent crimes that do not involve the Victim's Rights Act. 36 inmates were released under the order, a number which Taplin said helped to bring the jail to “well under” its current operating capacity. As of March 31, the population of the jail was at right around 775. That number was also down from just under 900 on March 24, Taplin said.

“Being law enforcement, the last thing we want to do is let someone go early who has violated a law after we have put all the work in to investigating and going through a court process and then the judge sentencing said person to a certain amount of time in jail,” said Taplin. “But it's what we are doing to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The sheriff's office has released inmates from the jail on several occasions in accordance with those criteria when the jail was close to reaching its operational capacity following the closure of the seventh floor.

In addition to the releases, jail staff have also put up information around the jail to inform inmates about the risk posed by COVID-19 and the need to wash hands regularly and perform other preventative measures. However, Taplin said jail staff does not have the ability to require inmates to take any precautions. Inmates generally have the ability to maintain six feet of distance while they are awake. However, the jail is not able to ensure six feet of distance between beds.

District Attorney's Office

The First Judicial District Attorney's Office, which handles prosecution in Jefferson and Gilpin counties, has also announced that it is taking steps to help reduce the number of inmates in the jail. Those steps include actively reviewing files to identify those offenders who may be of least risk to the community and offering them a personal recognizance bond and a continued court date. Emergency hearings were also held by judges to move that process forward.

“This process is not as simple as it may sound,” wrote Pam Russell, the Public Information Officer for the First Judicial District Attorney's Office. “It is not possible in every case to systematically reschedule a hearing; there may be legal issues such as the right to speedy trial and the constitutional rights of crime victims.”

The DA's office also has announced that it is working with Jeffrey Pilkington, the chief judge of the First Judicial District, to comply with an order from the Colorado Supreme Court that all criminal and civil trials be rescheduled. The order also recommends that all other hearings be rescheduled whenever, possible.

“This is a tremendous undertaking,” said First Judicial District Attorney Pete Weir in a statement. “The courts in Jefferson and Gilpin counties are working hard to try to resolve the issue of reducing the risk of exposure for everyone involved and at the same time ensuring the safety of our community.”

Despite the changes, the District Attorney's office continues to operate and remain open to law enforcement and officers of the court. Its offices are not currently open to the public.

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