Aurora, CO

Aurora inmates stay in small cells

David Heitz

The Aurora City Council wanted answers Saturday from Court Administrator and Detention Director Candace Atkinson.

The council met for its annual budget workshop. One of their first orders of business was to drill Atkinson about why there are so many vacancies in her department.

Atkinson explained it takes a long time from application to hire for her employees. Then they must go through 12 weeks of training,she said.

When asked why it takes so long to hire a candidate, Atkinson said she recently instituted lie detector and psychological exams. This has added to the amount of time it takes for a background check. Atkinson said it took the new jail chief position five months to hire from the time of application.

Council members also wanted answers from Human Resources Director Ryan Lantz. He explained to the council that his department performs background checks in house, which is a change in policy. Previously Atkinson had someone in her department who processed them,Lantz said. He said that now he knows there is a problem, he will look into why there may be delays.

Detainees in short-term quarters

Atkinson said sometimes inmates must stay on the first floor for more than three days, which is not ideal. But because the second floor of the jail is closed, there are no larger cells available for those with extended stays,she said. Juan Marcano asked whether the city is violating any regulations by doing this. Atkinson said they are “not violating any rights” but admitted prisoners sometimes are being housed “on the first floor when we really shouldn’t.”

Council member Alison Coombs asked Atkinson whether she thought about hiring contract workers. Atkinson said she felt uncomfortable doing that because the jail is more likely to be the target of lawsuits. She wants vetted employees dedicated to staying in the job there, she said.

Zvonek eyes cost savings

Council member Dustin Zvonek eyed cost savings in the vacant positions. He noted they had been vacant a long time and perhaps some should be eliminated. Atkinson said her staff works a lot of overtime and she worries about burnout if additional cuts were made. Zvonek said he worries about dollars being tied up in vacant city employee positions. Mayor Mike Coffman said he agreed.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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