CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – Voters in Arapahoe County overwhelmingly voted down a tax increase Tuesday that would pay for a new jail. The current jail is one of the oldest in the Denver-Metro area and according to the Sheriff, some of its problems are simply “unfixable.”
As of Wednesday night, election results on the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder website showed nearly 67% of voters said no to Ballot Issue 1A. If approved, it would increase property taxes to raise funds to pay for an estimated $400 million jail.
“The need didn’t go away,” said Sheriff Tyler Brown. “So when we woke up today it was time to get back to work and how do we move forward?”
Sheriff Brown told CBS4 he would like to see the issue on the ballot again in 2020, because many of the jail’s issues will only get worse.
CBS4’s Jeff Todd previously took a tour of the three decade-old jail. On top of major plumbing issues, Brown said the building is overcrowded.
The facility was built in the mid-80’s with the intention of having one inmate in each cell. As the county’s population has exploded, so has the inmate count. Triple-bunking started about a decade ago.
Brown said the lack of space also limits inmate services and treatment.
“People are getting out and they’re returning, not to their community, but to our community,” Brown said. “We all live together, so we want to return people back to our communities better than when they came to jail.”
That’s why, come 2020, Brown hopes to bring the issue to voters again. The decision to do so would be made by county commissioners.
“I think there’s some space that we can compromise,” Brown said. “I’m willing to go to the drawing table with anybody to look at what benefits our communities the most.”
Among the people opposed to the ballot issue was Juston Cooper, the Deputy Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. He said pre-election night polling performed by his group showed voters weren’t only worried about the tax increase.
“Voters are not only saying this might not be the right direction, but they’re also saying come up with real solutions,” Cooper said.
While Cooper acknowledges the many problems at the jail, his group believes spending $400 million on a new facility is a bad investment for taxpayers.
“Not expanding, but fixing the building issues, the maintenance issues,” He suggested. “But also, investment that also looks at a continuum of care for when these folks come out and actually having treatment on demand ready for folks.”
Sheriff Brown said the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition was among the many groups his office is working with to find a better fix for the future.
“I think we have to go back to the drawing board,” Brown said.