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ACLU of Colorado and Coalition Partners Question Denver Sheriff’s Budget Priorities

October 21, 2015

DENVER – As Mayor Michael Hancock prepares to present his 2016 city budget, several of Denver’s leading criminal justice reform organizations submitted a joint letter to City Council questioning the$24 million increase in the Denver Sheriff Department’s budget.

The coalition includes ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Latino Forum, Drug Policy Alliance, Criminal Defense Institute, Colorado Justice Reform Coalition and Colorado Defense Bar.

The letter outlines several concerns:

  • In 2005, Denver voters were asked to support a massive bond measure to expand the jails. Voters were told that no new staff at the Sheriff’s Department would be needed due to greater efficiency.
  • It is unclear whether the $24million increase reflects the total cost of the consultant’s recommendations.
  • There has been no concerted effort in Denver to reduce the jail population either before or simultaneously to this budget increase, nor does the budget address the issue of overrepresentation of people of color in jail.
  • Over 50% of people are incarcerated because they do not have the money to post bond. This is despite a US Dept. of Justice opinion that says that the overreliance of money bonds without consideration of indigence violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
  • There is also no consideration in the Sheriff’s budget request to improve and expand access to programs and services for people in jail or policies that expand pre-arrest diversion for low-level offenses to prevent jail at the onset.

The coalition notes that this week, over 100 police chiefs and government prosecutors are meeting at the White House to address ways to reduce incarceration rates. We think Denver’s city leaders should also work to reverse mass incarceration and repair the harm caused, particularly in communities of color.  We ask Denver to follow the example of other government entities in Colorado who have used the “power of the purse” to chart a new course.

“A public budget is a moral document that is supposed to reflect the values and priorities of the community.  For the undersigned organizations, this proposed $24 million budget increase neither aligns with our values or our priorities,” said Denise Maes, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Colorado.

The reform organizations urge the Council not to approve this $24 million increase without the following caveats:

1) the Denver Sheriff’s Department will provide City Council and the public its projections for future costs beyond the $24 million currently requested to implement the consultant’s recommendations

2) the Council should immediately create a committee that includes community representatives with experience in criminal justice reform that is tasked with making recommendations on how to reduce the jail population and strengthen inmate programs.

The Denver City Council will hold a public hearing on the 2016 Budget on Monday, October 26th.   Representatives from several of the signatory organizations will present testimony.

The joint letter to City Council is available here.

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