Fights, frustration seen as jail crowds
Vail, CO Coloado
EAGLE COUNTY ” If a drunk skier ran over your child, the cops might not put him or her in jail.
Only those charged with a felony, domestic-violence, arrested on warrants and those police deem to be a danger to the public or themselves are jailed these days, said Bill Kaufman, Eagle County jail administrator.
The situation won’t change until a new justice center is built to match the county’s explosive growth, county law enforcement leaders say.
Overcrowding in the jail jeopardizes public safety, creates dangerous conditions in the jail and costs taxpayers money, they say.
Last week the Eagle County Jail exceeded its capacity by 16 people, a larger than normal population for a facility that’s typically overcrowded, police say.
“When we do reach that level, we’re less inclined to bring people into the jail for less serious charges,” said Sheriff Joe Hoy of the Sheriff’s Office.
If someone breaks a homeowner’s window, if an intoxicated skier crashes into someone on the slopes or if parents neglect their children, none would go to jail, Kaufman said.
A person arrested for driving under the influence may even get taken home from jail by a safer friend, he said.
If deputies jail fewer people they arrest, more criminals are likely to miss court dates ” especially if they don’t have to pay a bond, Kaufman said.
A judge only sets a bond ” meant to ensure a defendant will show up for court ” if a person has been jailed.
Space in the jail is so scarce, some inmates live in the recreation room.
And if deputies wanted to segregate an inmate because he or she had an illness or had been violent, they would have no room to do so, Kaufman said.
“You start seeing more fights, more misbehavior and deputies get short,” Kaufman said.
Another problem is the high cost of the sending inmates to other jails, police say.
Taxpayers pay more when the Sheriff’s Office sends inmates to jails in other counties, Kaufman said.
The 22-year-old Eagle County jail had 78 inmates Tuesday even though its capacity is 62, so deputies drove 20 inmates to Park County Jail and took three juveniles to Denver.
Park County charges $45 each day to house an inmate, Kaufman said. Taxpayers also pay a deputy’s wage, the cost of fuel and wear and tear on the two vans used for transportation.
The costs for boarding inmates have increased dramatically. In 2005 and 2006, the Sheriff’s Office spent $58,000 and $100,000 boarding inmates outside the county. It budgeted $182,000 for 2007.
Eagle county mainly transports those sentenced to jail time to other counties, he said. That means those inmates stay in another jail for the duration of their sentences.
The jail also loses valuable manpower when a deputy must drive an inmate several hours to another county, Kaufman said.
The loss decreases the ratio of deputies to inmates, eroding control over prisoners, Kaufman said.
A new justice center will probably get built, but nobody knows when. Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher said that commissioners have to decide how to finance the project before the county begins construction.
“I can’t imagine anything happening for at least three years and that’s assuming we find the financing,” Fisher said.
Meanwhile the public, deputies, inmates and the public will continue to suffer the consequences of a crowded jail, Kaufman said.
“It’s hard for us to take care of what we have right now,” Kaufman said.
Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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