Eagle County jail operates as usual with additional Pitkin County inmates
Detention facility is still operating with over 50% vacancy even with six new inmates
On Jan. 12, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office deputies transferred seven inmates from the Garfield County jail in Glenwood Springs to the Eagle County jail. Six continue to reside in the Eagle facility as the sheriffs from the two counties determine further course of action.
New Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione was sworn into office in Aspen on Jan. 10 — the same day he was notified by Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario of the severance of a 2021 agreement that secured Pitkin County inmates at the Garfield County jail.
Former Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo had determined that the Aspen facility needed major updates for inmate safety and security, which prompted the agreement’s establishment. Instances that illustrated the need for Pitkin County’s facility updates include a 2019 suicide of an inmate as well as a 2016 report of consensual sex between a male and female inmate at the 24-bed jail.
In March 2021, Pitkin County commissioners approved the intra-governmental agreement and Garfield County’s nearly $61 daily rate for housing an inmate. However, the agreement remained conditional — Pitkin County needed to make strides in planning and executing facility improvements so that inmates could return to the Aspen detention center.
Upon Vallario’s termination of the arrangement, Eagle County stepped up to assist in the housing of the Pitkin County inmates temporarily.
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The six current Pitkin County inmates at the Eagle County jail make up just over 10% of the facility’s current total, said Gregory VanWyk, the detention division captain for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek and Buglione are still in discussions over the conditions and extent of the Pitkin County inmates’ stay in Eagle.
“Once that kind of gets ironed out, we’ll have more information,” VanWyk said. “But I think Sheriff van Beek’s intent is to have this be a short-term opportunity for Pitkin to assess their situation and to make some decisions in the long term.”
VanWyk said the possibility that Eagle County enters into a long-term agreement with Pitkin County like the one with Garfield County is up to the sheriffs.
“Pitkin County continues to make short-term safety improvements and work toward longer-term solutions for safety and capacity needs,” a Jan. 12 Pitkin County statement read following the transfer of inmates to the Eagle County jail.
With a total capacity of 116 inmates, the Eagle County jail is still operating with over 50% vacancy even with the Pitkin County inmates.
However, should the facility need to absorb even more inmates, and get closer to approaching capacity, VanWyk said the detention center operations would need to adapt slightly from how things are currently running.
“Part of our facility is housed at the end of the hallway in a larger part of the building,” VanWyk said. “We may have to restructure operations to accommodate a higher population if we exceed 70 or 80 inmates.”
At the moment, VanWyk said approaching capacity is not a major concern, even with Pitkin County inmates under the same roof.
“We’re not uncomfortable,” VanWyk said.
On top of the jail’s large capacity, the timing worked out well to absorb out-of-county inmates in the Eagle facility. VanWyk said updates to the jail that were put off due to COVID-19 were completed at the end of 2022.
In 2022, the jail had wrapped up updates to much of its first floor, including HVAC maintenance and reflooring. Next summer, the jail is slotted for second-floor updates that strive toward “more efficient heating and cooling throughout the facility,” VanWyk said.
“Those renovations are now complete, at least for this period of time,” VanWyk said. “We have the capacity right now to absorb the Pitkin inmates so it’s not overwhelming our facility.”
VanWyk said the transition to a new sheriff in Pitkin County provided a great opportunity for the community to see that it’s important to support neighboring communities when possible.
With the Lake Christine Fire in 2018, VanWyk said Pitkin County was a large supporter of Eagle County and did a lot to help manage the situation.
“It’s good to recognize that irrespective of political parties and all that kind of stuff, look, at the end of the day, we’re trying to help out the folks in Pitkin County and that sheriff as (he’s) coming on and getting things set up. Sheriff van Beek is saying, ‘Look, you know what, we can do this. We can help you guys out. We don’t know what the long-term plan of this is, but let’s at least give you some relief in the short term.’”
“We’re partners here,” VanWyk added. “At the end of the day, community safety doesn’t have county boundaries.”