Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mesa County criminal justice system wins $150,000 grant

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that Mesa County is one of 20 jurisdictions nationwide to receive a $150,000 grant to create a more effective local justice system. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way jails are used. Mesa County criminal justice entities, law enforcement, judges and others will use the financial support to work toward expanding municipal sentencing options and providing more mental health options.

Mesa County criminal justice partners were chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions from 45 states. The Safety and Justice Challenge competition supports jurisdictions across the country seeking to create local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money and yield more effective outcomes for those in the criminal justice system. The 20 jurisdictions selected will work with expert consultants to develop a plan for local justice system improvements. In 2016, as many as 10 of these jurisdictions will receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 to $2 million annually – to implement their plans over two years.

“Nearly 200 diverse jurisdictions responded to our challenge, reflecting nationwide interest in reducing over-incarceration,” said Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation president. “Each of the sites selected has demonstrated the motivation, collaboration and commitment needed to make real change in their local justice systems. We hope their local efforts will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.”

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local detention and justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and functions. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have cumulative expenditures related to the building and operation of jails.

"Mesa County is very excited and deeply honored to be chosen by the MacArthur Foundation to participate in the Safety and Justice Challenge," said Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis. "We are fortunate in Mesa County to enjoy quality working relationships across our local justice system and to have members who are committed to affecting positive change.

"We believe that commitment, our collaboration and the support provided by the grant present a real opportunity to make lasting, positive changes. We hope to ensure our local justice system is using our jail in the most just and efficient way possible, while still ensuring the safety of our community."

About 70 percent of Mesa County's jail population is awaiting trial. Municipal judges also are limited in sentencing options. Through the grant, local partners will focus on expanding sentencing options to better fit the nature of the offense. That should allow officials to focus on addressing substance abuse and mental health issues. Jail inmates who have access to quality mental health care following a jail sentence are more likely to remain stable, ultimately reducing recidivism and long-term jail population.

For more information on the Safety and Justice Challenge, visit

Media Contact: Heather Benjamin, Mesa County Sheriff's Office: (970) 244-3929

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

County declares state of heightened awareness for Landslide

This image from one of the cameras on the West Salt Creek Landslide on the Grand Mesa shows a new stream of water that formed over the weekend. Officials initiated a Level One response after seeing this new water. 

The appearance of a stream of water on the West Salt Creek Landslide has prompted officials to initiate a Level One response.

In the Emergency Action Plan drafted for the Landslide, three levels of response can be initiated. Level One means something has changed that requires a heightened level of awareness. It does not mean citizens near the area face an extra safety risk.

“We expected to see water-related changes in the Landslide during spring runoff,” said Tim Hayashi, Senior Engineer for Mesa County. “But one of the looming questions has been, ‘What would the pond do?’”

The Landslide that struck the Grand Mesa a year ago left a swath of debris 3 miles long and ¾ of a mile wide. What officials call a “sag pond” has formed from rainwater, snowmelt and other runoff near the top of the slide. The new stream of water that has appeared is about 75 feet above the base of what officials call the “slump block.”  

The Town of Collbran is about six miles northwest of the Landslide. Part of the Landslide occurred on property owned by the U.S. Forest Service; the other belongs to private landowners. Because of the instability of the slide area, the U.S. Forest Service restricted area remains in place. That includes the Landslide and 300 yards from the edge of the Landslide.

Mesa County, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Parks and Wildlife and state officials continue to monitor the situation. Cameras, monitors and other devices are in place to alert officials of any movement.

Mesa County’s emergency plan calls for immediate notification of the public when conditions become hazardous to citizens. Collbran residents have previously been briefed on the possibility of water spilling over the sag pond or finding a route down the debris area.