COVID-19 cutting crime rates and inmate numbers |

COVID-19 cutting crime rates and inmate numbers

A combination of early release programs and fewer arrests reduced inmate numbers 43% across the four-county Fifth Judicial District. This is the booking area in the Eagle County jail.
Daily file

By the numbers

Summit County Detention Facility

Inmate population: 20

Average number of inmates in March 2020: 43

Average number of inmates in March 2019: 51

Arrests in March 2020: 56

Arrests in March 2019: 116

Jail capacity: 94

Source: Summit County Sheriff’s Office

EAGLE — Quarantines cut crime rates.

Jail populations around Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District — Summit, Eagle, Lake and Clear Creek counties — are down an average of 43%, a combination of an early release program and inmates finishing their sentences along with fewer people being arrested, law enforcement officials say.

“The greatest reduction in population is due to fewer intakes into the facility,” said Capt. Greg Van Wyk, a detentions officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “As fewer arrests are coming in, inmates completing their sentences are reducing the overall population. The vast majority of our populations are presentenced inmates awaiting court dates that have been delayed due to COVID-19.”

In Vail, for example, police arrested 34 people between March 1-27, down from 64 over the same period in 2019.

In March 2019, Vail police handled 35 deceptive use of ski facilities cases, or ski pass fraud. In March 2020, there were eight.

In February, the average daily number of Eagle County jail inmates was 55.7. That was down to 38 on Friday, Van Wyk said. The jail will hold as many as 110 prisoners.

Four other factors

Along with fewer arrests, inmate numbers are being reduced due to a combination of measures, including:

Prompt detention hearings for arrestees who have coronavirus symptoms.

Bond reduction for inmates who are a low risk to public safety, with some releases requiring electronic monitoring.

Using a felony summons, a written promise to appear at a future date, instead of arresting someone.

Reducing previously imposed sentences and giving selected inmates early release.

Van Wyk said corrections officers have been working with judges, the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, encouraging inmates to write letters to the judges in their cases.

Inmates also earn “good time,” up to 13 days per month off their sentence, if they work in the jail on things such as maintenance projects, Van Wyk said.

COVID and crime

Then there’s COVID-19. Inmates have a “heightened potential” for infection. That prompted law enforcement officials across the four-county Fifth Judicial District to minimize the risks by reducing jail populations, the District Attorney’s Office said.

“Our goal is keeping jail populations at the lowest possible levels that can simultaneously ensure public safety and lowers risks of coronavirus community and inmate infection, is our goal,” Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes said in an announcement Friday.

Also eying state prisons

Along with local jails, inmates in state prisons who pose minimal public safety risks are also under consideration for early release. Those will not include people convicted of violent crimes and sex offenders, District Attorney Bruce Brown said.

“If we are going to release sentenced prisoners, we need to be careful that we don’t sacrifice public safety at the altar of public health,” Brown said. “We will be careful to consult with victims before taking these extraordinary steps, releasing people once deemed by a court unsuitable to be in our community.”

An executive order earlier this week by Gov. Jared Polis lifts limitations on prison inmates’ ability to shorten their sentences through good behavior. It also temporarily curtails the acceptance of new convicts to state prison.

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