JeffCo sets its criminal offenders up for success with new programs, resources
In Jefferson County, several community partners have teamed up in efforts to give its residents second chances. By seeking to curb recidivism — the tendency of criminal offenders to relapse into illicit behavior — this coalition aims to cut costs to taxpayers and focus law enforcement operations on its highest level offenders.
On Nov. 4th, 2023, the county held a “Fresh Start” event at its administration and courts facility in Golden. The goal of this event was to help residents clear outstanding warrants for low-level crimes including traffic offenses and other non-violent misdemeanors. Various community organizations ranging from drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers to job training programs were also spotlighted.
The Jefferson County Detention Facility has also found an innovative way to set inmates up for success upon their release through a collaboration with the Colorado DMV. Utilizing the “DMV2GO” program, which was designed to bring DMV services to those who don’t typically have easy access to them, the facility has assisted over 300 inmates with applying for replacement IDs or driver’s licenses.
The stated goal of this program is to “reduce recidivism and give inmates one more tool to be successful,” according to a 2023 Law Enforcement Report, with the hope that IDs and licenses will enable former inmates to more easily apply for programs and jobs.
But the program that seems to be putting the greatest dent in Jefferson County recidivism rates originates in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Launched in November of 2022, Pathways, a diversion program for low-level non-violent offenders, has connected hundreds of individuals with pre-trial programming aimed at addressing underlying causes of criminal behavior.
“What we really know is that if we can treat someone successfully in a community-based program, we’ll see less recidivism,” said District Attorney Alexis King.
She notes that the percentage of those that reoffend after release from prison is around 50% in Colorado — one of the worst rates in the country — while the rate for those who enter community based programs is closer to 20%.
King emphasizes that her main motive in implementing Pathways is to make the community safer.
“We know through national and local experience that if we over-involve someone in the justice system, we’re actually increasing risk of recidivism,” King said “So what can we offer in order to keep our community safe with that known factor? I think most prosecutors in Colorado feel that diversion is a really important pathway for people to have in the justice system.”
Another benefit that Pathways provides is a decrease in taxpayer spending related to court costs, says King.
“Because all of our general fund money comes from the county, and is subject to TABOR [limitations], we have to be really thoughtful about our resources,” King said. “We want to make sure that that energy and those resources are really focused on people who belong in the court system.”
When offenders are incarcerated, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office offers several programs to its inmates that go far beyond DMV access.
One such initiative is its Jail Based Behavioral Health Services program, which provides mental health and substance use treatment to individuals with the ultimate goal being continued case management and treatment upon their release from custody. JCSO offers classes on topics like relapse prevention, responsible thinking, healthy habits and healthy relationships.
Jacki Kelley, spokesperson for JCSO, acknowledges the positive community and individual impacts that can result from these kinds of programs.
“The programs we offer in the jail are important to us because we have a duty, obligation and desire to help those in our custody as well as a responsibility to the community,” Kelley said. “[The programs] can help someone create more stability in their lives upon release, potentially change their behavior patterns, improve relationships and allow them the opportunity to be successful.”
Between JeffCo’s DA office and JCSO are several commonalities in their approaches to criminal rehabilitation and the reduction of recidivism. Both recognize that allowing individuals opportunities to better themselves can result in improved long term behavior. Both tend to keep taxpayer dollars in mind, hoping to minimize both time spent in court and prison population to that end.
DA King noted that “the majority of the people that we see in the court system are people who have had a bad day, or are really down on their luck and have made some bad choices,” as opposed to hardened criminals. Jefferson County does its best at providing a support system to help these offenders learn from their mistakes, grow from the experience and move on with their lives.