Sheriffs Seek to Slam Brakes on State Plan for New Jail Standards

Bill Demands Raising Ire of County Law Officers

Trevor Phipps

As a part of the slew of new legislation introduced this year, state lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at setting statewide standards for county detention facilities.

But as soon as the bill hit the state House floor, many law enforcement officials and county sheriffs spoke out against the proposed legislation, saying that it is another example of unfunded mandates being forced on the county by the state.

These concerns have hit home. In Teller County, jail operations is a topic that has come up frequently ever since the sheriff’s office was sued over their agreement with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency a few years ago. According to county officials, the new jail standards law is another state plan that is not necessarily needed. Moreover, they see it as another way that state lawmakers are imposing regulations without offering funds to pay the cost to implement them.

Teller County Sheriff’s Office’s Detentions Commander Kevin Tedesco said that the state shouldn’t be involved in managing county jails as that is the job of the sheriff who is elected by the people. He also said that the state hasn’t offered any direct reason for the legislation, as there has not been any known issues with detentions centers not following protocol across the state.

The Local Impacts of New Jail Standards

Overall, the House Bill 24-1054, entitled “Jail Standards Commission Recommendations,” is aimed at improving conditions of detention centers statewide by creating a jail standards advisory committee. In addition, local governments would face a July 1, 2026 deadline for adopting the county jail standards, issued by the committee.  The bill also requires that the state attorney general and the committee conduct assessments of jails to make sure the regulations implemented are followed.

According to the bill summary, the committee will be responsible for assessing a jail’s facilities and policies and procedures to make sure the standards are being met. The committee also will make recommendations “for revising jail standards and ways to address jail needs necessary to comply with jail standards.”

The bill also includes who will make up the advisory committee if passed. This advisory committee will consist of two county sheriffs, two county commissioners, someone from the state public defender’s office, a physical or behavioral health professional with experience working in a jail, and a person representing a statewide organization that advocates on behalf of people experiencing incarceration.

“All Coloradans deserve safe living conditions, and their health and safety shouldn’t vary greatly depending on which jail they’re placed in,” said one of the bill’s sponsors Rep. Lorena Garcia, D-Unincorporated Adams County, according to Colorado Politics. “Creating a safer environment in Colorado jails is one of many steps we can take to rehabilitate incarcerated people so they have the tools they need to break cycles of incarceration.”


Jail Commander Lashes Out at State Oversight Bill

Commander Tedesco said that one issue he has with the bill deals with the makeup of the committee in charge of setting the regulations. He said that he didn’t like the fact that someone from the public defender’s office would be on the committee because they don’t have a background in detentions.

He also said that a person with mental health experience shouldn’t be on a committee that sets policies. “I don’t see the need to have mental health professionals directing the way we handle business,” the detentions commander said. “We are the experts in the detention field itself. There are times where the considerations of a mental health provider don’t necessarily align with the considerations of a detention center.”

He said that the committee could try to set standards that a jail can’t afford to implement. He also stated that the bill is a move towards the state trying to strip power away from county governments and undermine the authority of locally elected officials, such as the sheriff.

Among the many reasons county officials are opposed to the bill is the fact that what is good for one jail might not be good for another jail. Tedesco, who is a member of the statewide organization of jails, also argued that he has never heard of cases where jail standards have been an issue in Teller County or across the state as a whole. As a result, he believes that having a new oversight committee is unnecessary.

“Not only is there not a problem to fix, if there was a problem to be fixed, there are already grievance avenues that are available to inmates to have those issues and situations rectified,” Tedesco said. “We already operate under national detention standards voluntarily. The national detentions standards are comprised by detention professionals. So, it’s scary to say that we are going to put the detention standards in the hands of people who are not affiliated with the detention field.”

But despite pushback from law enforcement officials the bill survived its first major legislative test. It was passed by the judiciary committee and referred to the appropriations committee. County law officers may face a tough challenge in defeating the plan due to legislative and political realities that don’t bode well for them.