House members prepare for final vote to reduce youth detention population

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — A bill designed to lower the number of young people being held in juvenile detention centers in Colorado is making progress toward becoming law.

It has already passed the Senate and has a final vote in the House soon.

Supporters of the bill making headway at the state Capitol said it will keep more kids in school but people who oppose it say it could make those same schools even more dangerous.

Representative Lindsey Daugherty of Jefferson County is endorsing a bill she hopes will give students a second chance.

“I think as a society, we just need to kind of shift and not have the thought that we just need to lock everyone up,” Daugherty said. “We need to make sure, especially with our kids, that our kids are not being detained for low level offenses. That they’re in school, that they are with their families. That they are doing what they need to do to be successful in their future.”

She said that is the big goal behind Senate Bill 71. To keep low level youth offenders out of these centers, the bill calls for the state to cap the number of center detention beds to 215. The current cap is 327 statewide.

Daugherty says she doesn’t foresee the reduction causing any problems.

“COVID has given us an interesting pilot program,” Daugherty said. “Where the current cap, pre-COVID, was 327. And what it’s been the past year is 188. We have yet to hit that cap of 188.”

Just last week, an 18-year-old tried to escape Lookout Mountain Youth Services facility. It was the latest incident there after a successful escape and riots in recent years.

The bill sponsor wants people who are concerned to know that the bill will allow more beds for centers whose detainees shouldn’t be out. 

“One of the things I would point to is that there is a working group in the bill, where they can allocate more beds to jurisdictions who may need more beds. So that’s one way we’ll retain flexibility,” said Daugherty.

On top of the bed cap, the measure would also eliminate cash bail for young people. Daugherty said many courts were not using cash bail for youth anyway. If the measure becomes law, it will also cut more than $1,000,000 from the general fund for the Division of Youth Services. Lawmakers said that extra money will not be needed with less children in custody. This would all take effect starting this July.

The bill is set to be heard on the House floor for a final vote next week.

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