A History of Mesa County Work Release and Community Corrections

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Colorado Legislature passed the State’s Work Release Act

Mesa County became the first Colorado county to begin a Work Release program for jail inmates. Work Release was originally operated out of the County Jail and was designed to let sentenced misdemeanor offenders work in the community, require them to pay a portion of their room and board, and restitution to their victims. The Program began with the use of several LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Act) grants which were spent primarily for staff costs. Once the program achieved some initial success, an expansion took place which included releasing jail inmates into the community for educational purposes.

In October of 1973 the Work Release program began housing state inmates for work release. Most inmates were transferred from what was then called the Colorado State Reformatory in Buena Vista, Colorado. There were five such cases in 1973. In 1974, there were 22 inmates from the Reformatory and one inmate from the State Penitentiary in Canon City, Colorado. The State Division of Corrections supplied the County with three staff persons to help operate the program.

Colorado passed its first Community Corrections Act, and in November of that year, the state opened a Work Release Program at a site located on the East end of North Avenue, for state prisoners. This facility primarily housed prisoners who were within 90 to 120 days of being paroled from prison. The majority of the residents were sentenced from Mesa County. The state contracted with the County for the services of the "Program Coordinator" who oversaw both Work Release sites. The Jail site was staffed with County employees, and the site located on North Avenue, which was called the Work Release Unit, was staffed by State employees.  
    • 1971 there were 10 participants
    • 1972 there were 21 participants
    • 1973 there were 90 participants
    • 1974 there were 114 participants
    • 1975 there were 171 participants

The Work Release Unit made use of long term inmates called "permanent parties" for cooks in the jail kitchen and drivers to transport work release residents to their work sites.

Colorado passed legislation appropriating a small amount of money to be used to purchase services for housing offenders in local community corrections programs. This statute also established the appointment of local Community Corrections Boards, and encouraged the judicial system to divert non-violent offenders away from Department of Corrections (DOC) Facilities to residential or non-residential Community Corrections Programs.

The Mesa County Community Corrections Board was officially established by the County Commissioners on March 14, 1977. The original list of Board members included two ex-offenders. This list of members was later changed to omit the ex-offenders, and add more community citizen seats. The first official Board consisted of 18 members who were appointed on April 27, 1977; the first meeting was held on May 20, 1977. An ad hoc committee was established to determine the Board's purpose and establish By-Laws.

An amendment to the Community Corrections Act was passed authorizing local Community Corrections Boards to screen transitional offenders coming to local programs from the Department of Corrections. 

In September, 1979, the Board appointed the first review committee, made up of four board members, to conduct "... evaluation (s) of clients proposed for care in the Corrections Center..." This committee continues to be a part of the Board's functionsIn the early months of 1979, the Work Release Unit (North Ave. site), in conjunction with the State, began working toward American Correctional Association accreditation. At the same time, the County and the State came to an agreement to move into a joint facility with an enlarged capacity. There were delays in the remodeling of the selected building site, which delayed the program opening. Subsequently, the state decided to cancel the arrangement with the County and stated that it would no longer operate a program in Mesa County. 

On October 1, 1979, Mesa County officially took over the operation of the North Avenue site from the Department of Corrections, while continuing to operate the jail program. The Community Corrections Board unanimously passed a motion to officially establish a Community Corrections Program.

The County Commissioners decided to look for another location in January of 1980 and in February, a building site was selected and plans had begun to construct a new building to house both programs. The new facility was planned by the staff, who had definite ideas of how the new facility should be designed. Construction began in July, 1980, and the final walk-through inspection was conducted on December 24.

On January 2, 1981 the Community Corrections facility officially opened as Colorado's first facility built specifically for the purpose of Community Corrections/Work Release. The building is located at 559 Pitkin Avenue. The capacity of these programs increased from 20 clients to 40 clients between the two locations, in the new building. With the opening of this building, there were no longer Work Release residents housed in the jail. 

The Community Corrections/Work Release program continued to grow in popularity with the local criminal justice community and the state. A waiting list to enter into the program had to be established shortly after opening. 

The Community Corrections/Work Release program continued to grow in popularity with the local criminal justice community and the state. A waiting list to enter into the program had to be established shortly after opening.

The State Legislature transferred the money for diversion placements into community corrections programs from the Department of Corrections to the State Judicial Department in July of 1981. The Department of Corrections continued to manage the money for transition placements. Due to this change, the Mesa County began contracting with both state departments for placements.

The Community Corrections/Work Release program began its non-residential program with one client on March 26, 1984. The non-residential program grew gradually over the years, and the process became automated in 1992. The first full time non-residential staff member was hired in 1986. 

On May 15, 1984 the Program took over complete responsibility for the Diversion and County Court residents' money and disbursements. Prior to this time the resident's money was submitted by the staff to the respective court clerks for collection and disbursement. This procedure created a complicated and slow bookkeeping process.

In July of 1986 the state legislature transferred all community correction funds to the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), through the Department of Public Safety for allocation to community corrections programs. The DCJ developed a funding formula for both transition and diversion placements in local programs, moving away from the former method of allocating money based strictly on prior use of funds.

In 1986, the Community Corrections/Work Release program also began on-site urinalysis of resident samples: testing for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine usage. This program subsequently began conducting urinalysis testing for other criminal justice clients referred by other departments, such as: Probation, Parole, and juvenile facilities. The first full-time position was allocated to this program in 1993. 

As the work release program grew and the waiting list increased, the Mesa County Jail population also increased. Jail inmates first began to be housed at the work release program for short periods of time in July of 1986, to alleviate the over-crowding in the Jail.

In April, 1987 the "Jail Task Force," which had been appointed by the County Commissioners recommended to the Commissioners and the Sheriff that the work release building be expanded to house jail inmates as an interim solution to the jail population capacity limit. At that time, the new jail was projected to be completed in 1991. 

Also, in 1987 the program began to experience problems with a long waiting list. Through 1987 and into 1988 the program waiting list for diversion placements increased drastically. The funding from the state was not keeping pace with the increased usage of the program by the local Judges. Many of the unsupervised offenders on the waiting list would not be able to enter into the program for years.

Ground was broken for the Community Corrections/Work Release program addition in April, 1988 and construction was completed in September of that same year. The capacity of the program increased from 40 clients to 85 clients, with the female bed space doubling from four clients to eight clients. This program began housing "low risk" jail inmates in addition to Community Corrections/Work Release residents. The expansion also allowed the community corrections/work release population to slightly increase for maximal use of the available beds. 

In July of 1988 the wait list crisis came to a head when the Community Corrections Board made a decision to do the following: 

  • Reject all the diversion offenders on the waiting list at the time. 

  • Begin reviewing all diversion referrals, (prior to this time the board only reviewed transition cases from the DOC for acceptance on the waiting list.) 

  • Limit the number of offenders on the list to no more than ten at one time. 

While the decision was not a popular one, it allowed the board to bring referrals under control and to keep them in line with the state funding of the Program.

In a continuing effort to reduce jail crowding, Mesa County began operating a Pretrial program in December, 1989. Initially, Pretrial was staffed with one person, who interviewed pretrial defendants recording personal data and gathered criminal history information on defendants. This information was then provided to the Courts, District Attorney, and Public Defender's Office.

The Mesa County Commissioners asked the Community Corrections Board to act as the Criminal Justice Advisory Board (MCCCB/CJAB) in January of 1991. This mission was to work with various entities involved in the local criminal justice system, to improve existing programs or find new and innovative ways by which the system could be made more efficient. 

On April 9, 1991, the MCCCB/CJAB held a criminal justice retreat. This two-day session produced a 9-point plan to resolve issues regarding: Implementation of the recommendations from a criminal justice study completed as part of the jail building project, Inter-agency cooperation, early intervention for youth and media coverage.

The new Mesa County Detention Facility and Sheriff’s Office was opened on June 28, 1992 and was dedicated to the memory of former Sheriff L.R. Williams (who also began the work release program in 1971), for his commitment to the project. The jail inmates housed in the Work Release building were then moved to the Jail. From 1988, to 1992, a total of 2,324 low-risk inmates were housed in Community Corrections/Work Release, for an overall average daily population of 15.95. Housing the inmates in Work Release saved Mesa County large sums of money that would have been spent to house inmates and transport them to other county jails around the state. 

The additional beds made available by this move were used to expand the Community Corrections and Work Release bed capacity. Even with the additional capacity, the program was already beginning to experience problems with a long waiting list for Work Release-sentenced offenders. 

In 1992, the program began providing non-residential services to offenders on "Intensive Supervised Parole," in conjunction with the State Parole Department.

In August of 1993 the County Commissioners and the Sheriff made a decision to close the Work Release waiting list to any new placements. At the height of the waiting list problem, there were over 90 offenders, half of them unsupervised, waiting as long as six months to enter into the program. 

The Pretrial Services program expanded their services to include supervising defendants released on personal recognizant bonds. Additional staff were hired, facilitating more comprehensive interviews and background investigations. Subsequently, the program was granted authority to release pretrial defendants on bond with supervision, prior to their arraignment in court.

In January, 1994 the Mesa County Board of Commissioners created the Criminal Justice Services Department and moved the operation of the Work Release, Residential Community Corrections, Useful Public Service and Pretrial Services program under one administration. 

At the same time, the waiting list crisis resulted in the development of a new program called Day Reporting (DRP), to divert offenders away from Work Release sentences. Day Reporting began utilizing Electronic Monitoring devices to supervise offenders. Day Reporting and the Pretrial Services programs were established at 636 South Avenue, which ironically, was the site originally proposed for the Work Release Program in 1979.

On July 19, 1995 the Alternative Sentencing Committee explored problems with increased numbers of intoxicated persons in the Detention Center. The committee issued 21 possible options which would help alleviate the problem.

In August of 1996 a new program called the non-residential 3/4 house was approved by the Mesa County Community Corrections Board to offer apartments for residents moving into the community. Additional funding was eventually received from the state for operations. The program continues today with no funding from the state and is called the Independent Living Apartments. 

On December 5, 1996 a county-wide meeting was held to discuss strengths and weaknesses within the entire law enforcement and criminal justice system. Through a process of prioritization, four standing committees were formed to address: High numbers of Failures to Appear, Better means of handling DUI cases, Arrest Standards, and Work Release expansion.

Criminal Justice Services Department (CJSD) began supervising low-risk probation cases to help alleviate the high case load in the Probation Department in August of 1997. This practice continued until ????????????? 

Later that same year, in December, the County Commissioners approved the construction of a new Justice Center adjacent to the Mesa County Sheriffs Office and Detention Center. This was originally part of the site plan in the design of the new Detention Facility and Sheriff’s Office which opened on 1992.

In August of 1998 the County Commissioners approved funding for the building expansion of the Mesa County Community Corrections/Work Release program and the Mesa County Detention Facility. 

In September the County Commissioners approved the construction of a new jail pod to house the ever-increasing number of prisoners.

A new residential facility to house additional community corrections and work release offenders was opened in June of 1999. The new building is called the John Wesley Powell Building with a capacity of 72. The facility also had a day room for women offenders separate from the men’s day room and new gender-specific services and programs were started for women clients. The capacity for women is 24.

In June, 2007 an expansion of community corrections is completed adding 92 additional beds to the Powell facility increasing the capacity to 212. The expansion allowed the capacity for women to go to 44. In addition, 48 beds where built to be used for the new substance abuse treatment program named Summit View. 

The Summit View program was a product of the Mesa County Meth Task Force (MTF) which was a community-wide effort to address the local methamphetamine problem by providing and intensive residential treatment program.   The County Commissioners at the recommendation of the MTF and the local criminal justice agencies funded the construction by diverting funding away from a planned jail pod construction. 

In August, the work release program was moved to Sheriff’s Department which operated the program out of the old building which was originally opened in 1981 at the corner of 6th Street and Pitkin Avenue.

In August, 2010 additional community corrections beds were opened in an existing building located at 436 South 7th Street and separate from the Powell facility. The new facility is called Chipeta and has a capacity of 48 beds but is originally operated at a capacity of 38. This move provides complete separation of the female and male residents in an effort to improve service delivery to the residents.