Aurora measure could push for regional jails, detention centers to address COVID-19 threats

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AURORA | Aurora City Council members are returning to the virtual dais Monday to discuss a resolution urging detention centers and courts to implement policies to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The resolution, if passed, would encourage detention centers holding Aurora inmates to take actions such as publicly disclosing how many novel coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the facility, examine people for symptoms of the virus before entering the facilities, increasing the number of telephone or video visitation minutes available to inmates, and keeping families of inmates informed about actions, like quarantines, caused by the pandemic. 

Possible targets of the resolution include local detention centers, like the Aurora jail and the Aurora ICE detention facility, and neighboring jails. Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties all hold Aurora inmates in their jails, although they aren’t within the city’s borders, the resolution says.

“The purpose of this resolution is to make requests of facilities that house Aurora residents. Due to the realities of a detention center, an outbreak could be devastating so I want to make sure we look at ways to prevent the spread into or out of these places…as government leaders, it’s important for us to look at ways we can protect our residents from this pandemic and unfortunately, residents in a detention center can sometimes be forgotten…any interpretation this is intended to target one facility is a mischaracterization…,” said resolution drafter councilman Curtis Gardner.

The resolution doesn’t make any specific mention of any particular jail or detention center.

Detention facilities are also asked to “deploy creative solutions to continue providing recidivism reducing programs and religious worship in prison, such as smaller settings where individuals can maintain proper social distancing protocols” and “allow for earned credits to temporarily accrue for in-prison jobs, increased cleaning duties and other productive activities, while ensuring adequate protections for those that wish to participate.”

In court systems, the resolution asks for discontinuing pre-trial detention when possible, utilizing more incarceration alternatives, expediting parole decisions, and reducing the frequency of in-person check-ins. 

The resolution also asks for courts to “increase the use of existing elderly and compassionate release mechanisms, so that those who can safely be placed in home confinement or supervised release may serve their time in a safer and more supportive environment.”

While it wouldn’t be legally binding, the resolution would send strong messages to detention centers and courts, particularly as calls for more action to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in detention centers grow louder.

Abolish ICE Denver held a drive-thru protest on Friday calling for the release of inmates in the north Aurora facility to prevent an outbreak. Aurora Congressman Jason Crow has asked for more safeguards for immigrants detained in those facilities, too.

Last week the the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel filed emergency petitions asking the Colorado Supreme Court to “direct trial courts to take steps to reduce jail populations in light of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“COVID-19 poses an imminent public health threat to people who are incarcerated, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the virus, where social distancing is impossible, and with facilities that do not have adequate medical care to meet these needs,” State Public Defender Megan Ring said in a statement. “Colorado’s judicial leadership must protect inmates, correctional staff and the public by providing guidance to all Colorado judges to assist in depopulating jails during this pandemic.”

City council members are also expected to take up a final vote for an ordinance disallowing sugary drinks be the default for kids meals at Aurora restaurants and approving a new public art installation near Iliff Station.