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Lawmakers Greenlight Standards for Jails in Colorado

30 Nov 2023, Jail News, by

Lawmakers approved baseline standards for jails in Colorado, covering housing, feeding, treatment, and care for incarcerated individuals.

Lawmakers Greenlight Standards for Jails in Colorado - Inmate Lookup

On Tuesday, a group of Colorado lawmakers concluded a 17-month-long process by approving baseline standards for how the state’s jails should manage housing, feeding, restraining, treating, and caring for individuals within their facilities.

The Colorado Jail Standards Commission produced a detailed report covering 16 areas of jail operations, including health care, communication, visitation, housing, and the use of force and restraints. The Legislative Oversight Committee Concerning Colorado Jail Standards endorsed the report, which will be utilized as the foundation for legislation to be presented next year.

Commission Chair Meghan Baker expressed confidence in representing diverse perspectives and balancing reform and innovation while raising standards. The commission and committee, established through 2022 legislation, include sheriffs, county commissioners, police officers, a district attorney, and representatives from organizations advocating for minorities and individuals with lived incarceration experiences.

The approved standards address various aspects of an incarcerated person’s jail experience, emphasizing early access to medical professionals, culturally sensitive health care, and a nonjudgmental, gender-affirming approach. Training requirements include annual sessions for jail staff on recognizing and responding to suicidality, with meaningful observations of suicidal individuals scheduled at intervals no longer than 15 minutes.

The standards also specify that jails must provide “nutritionally adequate” food, encompassing three meals per day, two of which are hot, and prohibit food withholding or changes as punishment. Restraint usage is restricted to necessary and least restrictive measures, with staff training on recognizing signs of medical emergencies.

As of 2019, over 60 jails in Colorado housed individuals awaiting trial or serving sentences of up to two years.

When the Legislature reconvenes in January, the committee’s legislation will create a jail standards advisory council to assess compliance and report to lawmakers annually. Two county commissioners, two sheriffs, the state public defender, a jail health professional, and a representative of a statewide incarcerated people advocacy organization would make up the advisory council.

The attorney general and peer advisory group would examine standard compliance under the requirements of the bill. They can submit an annual report addendum if their results differ from the advisory committee’s.

In addition, the governor, the oversight committee, or a sheriff may request that the attorney general’s office perform a special evaluation.

Jack Johnson, the Public Policy Liaison for Disability Law Colorado, emphasized during an Oct. 13 meeting that the initiative is crucial for the attorney general at present as they lack knowledge and expertise in jails. He stated that this effort would help build up their understanding and enable someone in the attorney general’s office to immerse themselves in the standards.

Jails in Colorado have never had a uniform set of guidelines until Tuesday’s adoption of standards. In the future, the legislative committee can revise specific standards.

Baker stated that the document is intended to be a living one, acknowledging that what is considered best practice today may not hold true in five years. She acknowledged that it is not perfect but affirmed that it is the best compilation of knowledge derived from Colorado and insights gathered from other states.