COVID-19 cutting crime rates, inmate numbers in Eagle County, around state
Jail populations down 43% across four-county 5th Judicial District
EAGLE — Quarantine also cuts crime rates.
Jail populations around Colorado’s 5th Judicial District — Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties — are down an average of 43%, a combination of an early-release program and inmates finishing their sentences, and not replaced by as many 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 pre-sentenced inmates awaiting court dates that have been delayed due to COVID-19.”
In Vail, for example, police arrested 34 people between March 1 and March 27, down from 64 over the same period in 2019.
In March 2019, Vail Police handled 35 Deceptive Use of Ski Facilities cases — ski pass fraud. In March 2020, there were 8.
In February the average daily number of Eagle County jail inmates was 55.7. That was down to 38 inmates on Friday, Van Wyk said. The jail will hold up to 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, some of whose release requires electronic monitoring.
- Using a felony summons, a written promise to appear at a future date, instead of arresting someone, and 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 like 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 5th Judicial District to minimize the risks by reducing jail populations, the DA’s Office said.
“Our goal is keeping jail populations at the lowest possible levels that can simultaneously assure public safety and lowers risks of coronavirus community and inmate infection, is our goal,” Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes said in Friday’s announcement.
Also eying state prisons
Along with local jails, inmates in state prisons who pose minimal public safety risks are also being eyed for early release. Those will not include those 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.