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Audit Report

Denver Sheriff Department: Jail Safety

The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of Denver Sheriff Department efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of
the City and County of Denver’s jails—including an examination of operational trends and management practices that affect the safety and security of the jails for the public, staff, and inmates.

Watch the Audit Committee presentation here.

The Denver Sheriff Department is housed within the Department of Public Safety. It is the largest sheriff department in Colorado and is
responsible for the safe and secure care, custody, and transport of prisoners for the City and County of Denver.

The department processes court-ordered civil actions, provides security for the City’s court system, and manages the City’s jails—
including the operation of the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, the Denver County Jail, and the Correctional Care Medical Facility
at the Denver Health Medical Center.

Fragmented Management Processes Prevent the Sheriff Department from Having a Comprehensive Understanding of Risks to Jail Safety and Security

Although not all factors impacting jail safety and security—such as the number of inmates, population characteristics, and staff retention challenges—are fully within the Denver Sheriff Department’s control, we found that the department lacks a comprehensive and systematic approach to identify and respond to risks—including factors that could adversely impact the safety of jail staff, inmates, and the public.

The department’s lack of holistic strategies for risk management contributes to a fundamental disconnect in the department’s understanding of how weaknesses in the design, implementation, and evaluation of its jail management practices can create systemic risks to jail safety and security. We identified fragmented and ineffective management processes that compromise the department’s ability to identify and respond to the risks posed by the inmates it manages.

  • Some of the department’s intake practices were inconsistent with leading industry practice or department policies.
  • The department’s classification system may be compromised due to a lack of validation, override practices that primarily decrease custody levels, and a failure to periodically reassess inmate classification levels.
  • Practices related to the daily supervision of inmates should be strengthened.
  • The department’s incident response protocols and practices are fragmented and lack coordination.
  • Ineffective data management practices weaken the department’s efforts to identify and respond to risks. Although steps have been taken to improve data management, fundamental gaps persist related to data collection, as well as ensuring transparent, accountable reporting occurs in objective, easy-to-use formats for decision-making.

As a result, we recommend the Denver Sheriff Department develop, document, and adhere to both a comprehensive risk management process and a comprehensive data management approach.

1.1 Align Intake and Classification Processes with Leading Practices – The Denver Sheriff Department should align its intake and classification processes with leading practices, such as guidance from the National Institute of Corrections, and with department policies and procedures. This should include documentation of procedures not currently outlined in department policies and procedures, as well as appropriate risk control strategies related to external actors, management supervision, capacity and housing issues, and data system design.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – July 1, 2019 (Intake Policy Review), May 1, 2020 (Classification)

1.2 Align Direct Supervision Policies and Procedures with Leading Practices – The Denver Sheriff Department should align its policies and procedures to ensure its direct supervision practices to conform with leading practices, such as guidance from the National Institute of Corrections, including those leading practices related to inmate restraint practices and field training. Additionally, the department should implement necessary monitoring activities to ensure direct supervision practices and department policies are adhered to.

Agency Response: Disagree, Implementation Date – October 1, 2019

1.3 Develop, Document, and Implement Cohesive Incident Response Strategies – To ensure department staff respond to incidents in a manner that mitigates risk to jail safety and security, the Denver Sheriff Department should develop, document, and adhere to cohesive incident response strategies. This should include aligning its existing incident response policies and procedures to conform with leading practices, such as guidance from the National Institute of Corrections, and cohesive strategies for decision-making, communication, and resource management for incident responders.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – October 1, 2019

1.4 Develop, Document, and Implement Comprehensive Risk Management Strategies – The Denver Sheriff Department should develop, document, and adhere to a comprehensive set of risk management strategies that identifies systematic and consistent approaches for incorporating risk management into jail operations and planning processes. Specifically, the strategies should identify and describe strategies for detecting existing and potential risk, assessing the likely effect of risk on jail operations, and establishing risk control measures. Moreover, the comprehensive strategies should clearly define the structure required for directing implementation—including centralized coordination, establishing accountability, monitoring progress, making required changes, and reporting in a timely manner to the jail administrator and the funding authority.

Agency Response: Disagree, Implementation Date – October 1, 2019

1.5 Develop and Implement Data Management Plan – The Denver Sheriff Department should develop and adhere to a cohesive, comprehensive data management plan to include strategies and processes for improving the following:

  • Collecting and coding of data—including ensuring the department’s data system and staff are equipped to collect and report reliable data;
  • Analyzing and interpreting the data collected—including leveraging existing units to understand relationships and dependencies between the data elements collected and the risks to jail safety and security; and
  • Communicating the results of analyses to stakeholders for decision-making— including developing mechanisms to ensure objective, easily understood reports are communicated in a transparent and accountable manner throughout the organization.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – December 31, 2019

1.6 Develop, Document, and Implement Monitoring and Evaluation Strategies for New Jail Management System – In addition to Recommendation 1.5, the Denver Sheriff Department’s data management approach should provide for monitoring and evaluation of the new jail management system’s implementation to ensure all critical system design elements are delivered by its vendor and incorporated in its operations.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – December 31, 2019

Follow-up report

A follow-up report is forthcoming. 

Audit Team: Katja E.V. Freeman, LaKeshia Allen Horner, Catherine Lyes, Darrell Finke, Shaun Wysong, Daniel Summers, Chris Wat

Methodological Support: Samuel Gallaher, Robert Persichitte