Jailed for Unfinished Classes


April 15, 2024




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(DENVER) – The courtroom was quiet. There were two people sitting on the benches in the back, but they were not waiting for Cornelius Jenkins. There was no one there for him.

Jenkins stood quietly beside his public defender. He was there to give up — he was there to admit defeat.

“By accepting your admission, I find that you’re in violation of the terms and conditions [of your probation],” said Judge Simonet. “I could resentence you all over again on this case, which could include up to 300 days in the Denver County Jail.”

“Yes, your honor,” Jenkins replied.

Jenkins was arrested in June 2020 in connection with a domestic violence incident that happened a couple of weeks earlier. In a statement, a Denver Police officer wrote that Jenkins allegedly attempted to attack his partner and took her cell phone. She “played dead” so Jenkins would give up the assault, according to the statement. She then ran to a neighbor to call 911.

In October 2021, a jury found Jenkins guilty of disturbing the peace. By then, Jenkins was homeless, according to court minutes. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail.

With his jail sentence completed in December 2021, this chapter of his life could have been behind him. However, Colorado law requires anyone charged with an act of domestic violence to undergo an evaluation and receive a treatment program in the form of court-mandated classes, usually around 24 to 48 of them.

Jenkins was given two years to complete his domestic violence classes.

In February 2024, 28 months after his sentence, Jenkins was back in court again. His time had run out to complete the classes. He was also found guilty of assault in another county. The Denver City Attorney’s Office was asking Simonet to end Jenkins’s probation and send him back to jail.

Jenkins is one of many homeless people in Colorado who are involved in the criminal justice system. In a 2018 survey on homelessness in Colorado jails by the Colorado Department of Public Service, nearly 60% of the 488 inmates who responded had been homeless 30 days before going to jail.

Michael Curran, a community manager for Silver Lining House, a transitional housing program in Denver, personally experienced homelessness for six years.

“When you are in the streets, you forget days. You don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Monday,” he said. “When you are high or withdrawing from drugs, your mind doesn’t work properly.”

Curran said probation officers sometimes give government cell phones to probationers, “but people steal them or break them. Things happen in the streets. You lose your belongings. Then you don’t have anything to remember court dates.”

Jamie Rosenberry, case manager at the Denver-based Providence Network, a transitional housing organization, has been working with people experiencing homelessness for nine years.

“Being homeless is a full-time job,” she said. “Classes are difficult to get to,” and she added that many court-mandated classes moved online because of COVID. “But you need the internet or a working cell phone with data. Public libraries are hit-or-miss. Not every library would let you sit there and Zoom away for 1.5, two or even three hours.”

Based on her own experience, Rosenberry said that Denver’s courts generally do a good job of giving people in vulnerable situations lots of opportunities to make different life choices. But she said, “Being locked up does not make you sober. It does not make you less of a criminal.”

Back in the courtroom, Jenkins read his statement. The public defender had explained that despite great difficulties with financial struggles and personal tragedy, Jenkins had worked towards completing the terms of his probation.

“I’m very accountable for the original charge. And I know that my behavior then wasn’t appropriate. I’m accountable for that,” Jenkins said.

“I’m trying to be a good dad. I’m homeless, but I have a 31-foot travel trailer and a job with a family. I’m just trying to do honorable stuff. I’m not perfect, and I’m not committing massive crimes anymore.”

Simonet was firm but sympathetic. She said she had no more time to give Jenkins to complete his probation.

“It sends the wrong message for me just to terminate your case unsuccessfully,” she said. “I also don’t want a long jail sentence to impact your life and mess up the stable things you do have in your life.”

She gave him 21 days to sort out his situation before going to jail.

Three weeks later, at 8:30 am, after a delayed sentence ordered by Simonet, Jenkins appeared in court ready for his 15 days in jail.

When Jenkins is released from the Denver County Jail, he will report to another probation officer in another county for a similar sentence — a 24-month probation, just like the one he did not complete.

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