Are there enough “beds” (meaning spaces for prisoners) in Adams County, Colorado? The tough economic climate and resulting budget cutbacks have lead the Sheriff in Adams County to tell the nine cities and towns within the County’s borders that there is now a cap on the number of prisoners each of them will be able to house in the County jail at any one time. Since the cap numbers are based on the populations of each city, some cities are facing the potential of releasing lawbreakers they would otherwise incarcerate. One city, Federal Heights, only gets one bed (and its Police Chief says they need at least two). This is distressing to all of the nine Police Chiefs in the County.
County officials say it is a matter of money and safety for them. By law, the County is not required to house municipal prisoners, and it simply can no longer afford to safely house so many prisoners from the cities. Besides, they have their own group of dangerous prisoners who require incarceration. At first, it was only the Sheriff and the Police Chiefs facing off. As the Sheriff has been turning away potential inmates, the County Commissioners have been drawn into the fray. They express frustration with the situation, but what can they do? My answer: They can at least suggest that the two sides stop pressuring each other in the press and sit down to try to collectively solve the problem. To do that, they need a Group Facilitator.
As a Group Facilitator, I suggest the following to build a structure for resolution of this dispute:
- Call for the convening of a group of representatives of the affected local law enforcement entities and, where appropriate, local government administrators and municipal judges.
- The group to be convened should allow all of the affected entities to be fairly represented. Since the disagreement has basically two sides, the table should be as balanced as possible. Bringing all nine Police Chiefs to a table to pressure the Sheriff is not a recipe for productive negotiation. I suggest a representative group from the cities should meet with a similarly-sized group from the Sheriff’s Office and the County Administrator’s office. This would result in a group of perhaps a dozen. A group this size can be managed by a Group Facilitator.
- Hire a Group Facilitator acceptable to all sides. The cost of the Group Facilitator should be shared between the two sides. Rather than trying to allocate fair shares among at least ten affected parties (the County and the ten cities), I would simply make it an even split between the County and the cities as a group.
- As the Group Facilitator, I would do a confidential interview with each participant (or at least the group representing each side) to allow me to develop understand the issues involved and then develop an agenda for the first meeting.
- Convene the first meeting, based on the agenda developed from the interviews. The agenda could be modified by the parties at that first meeting. As with all such facilitations, ground rules would be agreed to by the parties at the table. Those ground rules would guide the deliberations of the group as it moved forward.
- The group should agree to meet for a maximum number of times to either resolve the dispute or decide they cannot resolve it, and other means must be used (probably back to the press, again or, even a less attractive option, the courts).
- If an agreement is reached, document it in the form of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). The IGA should be publically endorsed by all parties to the dispute. This acknowledges the work of the group, lets the public know that the problem has been resolved and takes pressure off of the various elected officials presently being impacted.
As a Group Facilitator, I think that this is a formula for success. Continued charges and counter-charges in the press is a formula for failure.