Prison interior. Jail cells, dark background.

With a 32% increase in male inmates and a 60% increase in female inmates since 2015, Mesa County is considering a $21 million expansion of its jail.

The Daily Sentinel reports that Sheriff Matt Lewis hopes to add 160 beds, a medical health center and a mental hold area. The health components have given pause to some of the county’s commissioners, but Lewis countered that detainees with mental health disorders are housed in the booking area currently due to lack of sufficient space.

There are currently 566 prisoners in the jail, which had an original capacity of 392, but which has since been retrofitted to house 611.

The vast majority of those inmates are awaiting trial.

In his budget request to the Legislature this November, Attorney General Phil Weiser asked them to set aside $6.5 million to implement a new pretrial services regime.

“By holding nonviolent offenders in jail awaiting trial, we put these individuals at risk of losing their jobs, not caring for loved ones, and disruption to family stability,” Weiser wrote, adding that legislation is expected.

The Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative found that approximately 36,000 people are behind bars in Colorado, one-third of whom are in local jails. From 1978-2013, the state’s jails have housed almost as many people who have been convicted as those who are facing trial at any given time.

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