Eagle County guards try to keep peace behind bars
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado ” Andrew Vigil, Leadville native, was tired of working construction. He didn’t want to work outside in the cold and in the snow anymore. He had been doing it for 10 years. So, when Vigil saw the jail deputy job posting in the newspaper, he was interested.
That was six and a half years ago.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time. It is a lot different than what I expected,” Vigil says. “It is a lot more responsibility than I thought it would be. You need to be patient to do the job and you need to be able to multi-task.”
Vigil and the other 22 staff members, four sergeants, 20 jail deputies and two trainees, at the Eagle County Jail not only keep order in the jail but are the inmates’ nutritionists, nurses, janitors and chauffeurs.
Jailers must make sure inmates are fed three times a day, but the days of ‘bread and water’ menus are over. Today, detention facilities cater to inmates’ special dietary needs, based on medical problems or religious beliefs. Jailers distribute medication to inmates two to four times daily and keep a five- to 15-minute watch on inmates who may be suicidal. They also make sure that each inmate gets at least an hour of recreation time daily.
“It takes eight to 10 hours to get recreation done depending on how many people are in the jail,” Vigil says.
Jailers change the inmates’ linens once a week and their clothes twice a week. They are also responsible for transporting the inmates to court. On a busy day there could be 20 to 25 court dates. Jailers also take people to and from different jails for a variety of reasons, including when the the jail is overcrowded. They routinely take inmates to the Front Range and Grand Junction.
All of the jailers are trained in firearms and in self-defense quarterly. Because of the county’s 2008 budget cutbacks, this training is now done on duty to reduce overtime expenses.
“It puts stress on you … Sometimes we are left with only two deputies and a sergeant if two people go to training,” Vigil says. “It is frustrating for the people who are here and trying to get things done and it could lead to officer-safety issues.”
Sheriff Joe Hoy explains the training schedules and a strict adherence to a 40-hour work week ” because overtime has been cut back ” leads to less manpower and less officers to back up teammates.
“This is not the way to deal with overtime issues, having to reduce teams to meet overtime requirements. My guys are frustrated because we can’t support the community as we should,” he says.
Hoy hopes these cutbacks are not indefinite and says that hiring more personnel would help. “But I don’t think we are going to see that,” Hoy admits.
Currently there are 63 inmates housed in the 62-bed Eagle County Jail. Sometimes the jail is forced to house inmates in the indoor recreation facility. In the wintertime or if it is raining, inmates are then forced to go to the library instead of getting exercise.
“This makes the deputies’ job harder because people are more agitated, which could lead to more problems in general,” Vigil explains.
Also, according to officers from two different local law enforcement agencies, the jail is not able to hold intoxicated people or people who have committed misdemeanors for any length of time because there is no room. As a result, these people get a summons and are released.
Hoy says that only non-violent residents of the county and people who have committed white-collar crimes are not held.
Though the jail is due to get an expansion, slated to be complete in 2010, it seems it is only going to be a temporary fix. “The 40-bed expansion is going to help but we could probably fill that in a couple of months,” Vigil says.
Hoy predicts, “… the day we open the door the beds will be filled.”
Clebe Gordon, a 26- year- old inmate, agrees jail deputies make a difference.
“I know that some of them go beyond their duties to talk to us and to influence us to make better decisions in the future. They actually still treat is like human beings, unlike a bunch of animals pent up,” Gordon says. “As long as we respect them, they respect us.
“This county jail is alright. It is better than most,” adds a current inmate who wished to not be identified.
Vigil prides himself and the Eagle County Jail on the inmate-staff relationships.
“We have a good rapport with the inmates unlike other facilities,” Vigil claims.
Jail administrator Bill Kaufman’s motto is, “Our job gives us authority; our behavior gives us respect.”