Chapter 5: Mesa County, Colorado


Mesa County (Grand Junction), Colorado, is located on Colorado’s western slope, approximately 250 miles west of Denver. The county encompasses 3,300 square miles; 74% of that territory consists of public land. The population of Mesa County is estimated at 148,513 (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). The county’s population is 94.1% white, 14.4% Hispanic or Latino, 1.5% American Indian and Alaska Native, and 1.0% black or African American (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). The median household income is $48,610, and 15.4% of the population live below the poverty line (2015 U.S. Census Bureau).

The county’s court system constitutes the 21st Judicial District of Colorado, one of several single-county judicial districts in the state. The office of the Mesa County sheriff is an elected position that has responsibility for the county jail, work release, and work-ender programs. The jail capacity is 442, and the average daily population of the jail in recent years has been over 450, with approximately 7,000 jailable cases filed each year. The Criminal Justice Services Department (CJSD) is a county department that is responsible for pretrial services, halfway housing for prison alternatives, and other community-based services (i.e., day reporting, pretrial diversion, deferred services, and electronic monitoring). CJSD also has a county-managed treatment facility offering residential and outpatient services. Probation and parole are both state functions, managed by separate entities.

  Profile of Mesa County’s Justice System


  Jail Rated Capacity


  Jail Bookings


  Jail Average Daily Population


  Pretrial Supervision Average Daily Population


  Community Corrections Population (e.g., prison diversion/transition, halfway housing)


  Probation Admissions


  Probation Population


Mesa County’s interest in the EBDM initiative was primarily driven by a concern for the effective use of fiscal resources as well as a strong interest in improving the outcomes produced by the county’s various sentencing options. A previously formed collaborative leadership group identified that its goals and those of the initiative were one and the same and, as a result, pursued the opportunity to participate in the initiative.

Mesa County was selected as a pilot site because of its history of working together to solve challenges in the criminal justice system and its active participation in a state-level effort to develop a pretrial risk assessment tool.


“This initiative has more potential to reach the common goals of less crime, a stable jail population, less fear, and increased community satisfaction in the justice system than anything I’ve seen in this community in the last 25 years.”
–Sheriff Stan Hilkey

The Mesa County Criminal Justice Leadership Group (CJLG) consists of 17 agencies. It was formed in 2010 (just prior to the county’s participation in the EBDM initiative) for the purpose of collaboratively making system changes to address jail overcrowding. The CJLG serves as the sounding board and oversight committee for the EBDM executive committee.

The Mesa County EBDM Policy Team’s vision and mission statement is: “One less crime, one less victim, and one less offender to create a safer community through the use of principles and practices of reliable evidence-based decision making.”

The EBDM executive committee is composed of the following stakeholders who committed to work together toward specific risk and harm reduction goals:

  • the chief judge;
  • county judges;
  • the deputy director of the State Office of Alternate Defense Counsel;
  • the director of the Office of the Public Defender;
  • the county sheriff;
  • the chief of probation;
  • the probation department supervisor;
  • the district attorney;
  • a deputy district attorney;
  • the director of the Mesa County Criminal Justice Services Department;
  • a judicial administrator;
  • a county data analyst; and
  • the contracted local initiative coordinator.


In addition to the change efforts highlighted in this case study, the Mesa County EBDM Policy Team also:

  • developed a pilot court that applied principles of evidence-based decision making in drug cases to contribute to recidivism reduction;
  • revised the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSIR) and standard conditions of probation to align with evidence-based principles; and
  • adopted and normed the Hawaii Proxy risk tool for use in front-end decision making (e.g., summons/arrest decisions, jail intake) and a variety of post-sentencing program decisions (e.g., prison diversion, etc.).

Mesa County’s EBDM policy team started along the Phase II planning roadmap to assess the degree to which research evidence guided their decisions, and to identify strengths, challenges, and targets for future policy and practice change. The system mapping exercise was critical in developing a shared understanding of the criminal justice system and in identifying the problems and barriers that required further exploration and data collection. A remarkably large number of system actors participated in the system mapping process, including public and private defense counsel, deputy prosecutors, county and district court judges, probation and community corrections officers, and jail and court staff.

Ten months into their EBDM planning work, the Mesa County EBDM Policy Team agreed to a set of change targets and developed logic models and detailed implementation plans. This case study provides a review of Mesa County’s Phase II/III efforts as they relate to the following change targets:

  • integrating the use of risk and need information in decision making across the criminal justice system, including at the pretrial stage; and
  • redesigning community intervention options, including the conduct of a risk and needs analysis of felony and misdemeanant populations and the development of a sentencing guide.

For more information on the full range of change targets developed by Mesa County, see their Phase III implementation plan.


Mesa County officials continue to promote EBDM and share their experiences with their in-state colleagues. For example, Mesa County officials have conducted trainings for judges and defense lawyers on smarter sentencing and pretrial justice decision making.

Locally, they continue to collect data and meet annually to review this data and make adjustments to various policies and practices. They are currently in the process of revising the bond guidelines for the second time and intend to release a new version of the sentencing guide to include more specific data about the risk levels of the client population placed in various programs. An updated guide containing these results is expected to be released within the first quarter of 2017.

While there are continued efforts to use both the bond guidelines and the sentencing guide as data-driven decision making tools, county officials indicate an ongoing need to expand their analyses, with a particular interest in understanding the outcomes of the unsupervised pretrial population.