Increased county revenue, other circumstances mean long-shuttered Eagle County jail pod will reopen in 2018
EAGLE — It’s been roughly six years since the 40-bed Direct Supervision Pod at the Eagle County Jail housed prisoners, but by mid-year 2018 the facility will be back in service.
The Direct Supervision Pod opened back in 2010, and the facility was touted as a safe, effective detentions environment that would provide a more constructive jail experience. The theory behind how the pod operated was that it would ultimately result in fewer relapses for inmates.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office operated the pod for approximately a year before countywide budget cuts prompted the decision to close the facility.
But in 2018, a combination of factors, including an increasing jail population, more costs associated with inmate transportation and a less constrained budget, spurred the Eagle County Commissioners’ decision to fund re-opening the Direct Supervision Pod next year.
According to Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman, the county has earmarked $305,000 in 2018 to re-open the pod. That figure includes recruitment, hiring and training for four new detentions deputies. The county budget anticipates the pod will be operational by July 1 and that actual costs associated with running the facility will drop to $120,000 in 2019.
“The sheriff’s office felt very strongly it was time to re-open that pod,” Klosterman said.
“Our numbers are steadily increasing beyond our capacity without the (Direct Supervision Pod),” said Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek. “At one point this summer, we filled every spare jail bed within a 100-mile radius of Eagle County.”
Without the Direct Supervision Pod, the Eagle County jail has space for 76 prisoners in a mix of two-person, four-person and eight-person units. While the issue of having all the jail beds occupied is a frequent problem, Van Beek noted that the need for the pod extends beyond basic vacancy.
When inmates report to the jail to serve out their sentences, they go through a classification process for bed assignment. For instance, detentions staff doesn’t want to put a nonviolent, first-time offender in the same cell, or even the same unit, as repeat violent inmates. But when the jail is full, Van Beek noted staff has fewer options about where to place people. This issue is further complicated by the increased number of female inmates at the jail, who have to be separated from male inmates.
“With the limited space we have, it is really, really difficult,” Van Beek said.
Changes in mandatory sentencing in Colorado mean those difficulties are only going to increase, Van Beek said. The sheriff noted that inmates will not only be serving longer terms, but new regulations curtail “good time” reductions in the time inmates spend in jail.
Farming out inmates
Because of the limited number of cells at the county jail, Eagle County has been sending some of its inmates to other facilities. But that solution generates its own set of challenges. Topping that list is transportation difficulties.
When an inmate is sent to another jail, one or two deputies have to transport the individual, and it isn’t a one-time effort. Inmates have to return to Eagle for court dates, for example.
By opening the Direct Supervision Pod, Van Beek will cut back on the need to house inmates in other jails, and he may even start collecting revenues from other, overcrowded facilities. However, Van Beek said running a jail is never a revenue-generating proposition. At best, he hopes that running a good jail will result in ensuring a safer environment countywide.
Earn the privilege
Being housed in the Direct Supervision Pod is a privilege for inmates. The pod is an open-concept facility, without doors and walls and individual cells. Inmates have access to their own laundry facilities, and they generally enjoy more freedom of movement within the area. However, they are responsible for cleaning the pod daily and held to a code of personal conduct that includes being respectful of others.
“The (pod) is not as locked down,” Van Beek said. “There is more socialization, and they have somewhat better liberty. Inmates have to earn their way into the Direct Supervision Pod.”
When the pod first opened, the sheriffs office noted that inmates there would be encouraged to participate in life-skills classes such as English instruction and programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as restorative justice efforts
Van Beek said one of the benefits of the pod is that it may actually help deputies fight future crime.
“The evidence shows if you put individuals in with people of similar circumstances … they are less likely to catch the negative influences of other inmates,” Van Beek said.