Serving time, saving money in Eagle County
Eagle County, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY , Colorado ” Since suffering cuts to its budget last year, the Eagle County, Colorado Sheriff’s Office has learned to scale back its spending and to get the most out of every dollar ” and inmate ” it has.
In January, the Sheriff’s Office implemented a cost savings program that is projected to save more than $50,000 annually, and also started levying fees that already have brought in much-need dollars.
Spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said because of the cuts made to the sheriff’s budget last year, the minds of the Sheriff’s Office had to figure out a way to maintain the level of service.
“We already have a tight budget that was cut,” Cordingly said. “We know we need this and we don’t have the money. How can we do this?”
The biggest way the office will save money is by ditching its costly cleaning service. Instead of paying $51,233 a year to a private company, the office decided to put its residents to work. Inmates clean the entire building twice a day ” once in the morning and again at the end of the day.
Deputy Tom Brandl said inmates have always had chores, like cooking and cleaning, but that was always done in the jail and out of the view of the public roaming through the halls of the justice center and heading in and out of court.
Now the inmates can be seen almost everywhere ” sweeping and mopping the justice center’s hallways, out in the parking lot shoveling snow, patching up holes in walls. They can even be seen far from the lonely confines of their cells.
Inmates also spend time cleaning the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District’s firehouse, doing chores at the animal shelter and picking up odd jobs at the landfill.
To Brandl, the program is more than just a cost-saving measure.
“It’s something the county benefits from, society benefits from and the inmates benefit from,” he said. “Their benefit is time’s going by a lot quicker than just sitting in a cell.”
Inmates who are allowed to participate in the program ” no sex or violent crime offenders are allowed ” knock one day off their sentence for every 12 hours of work, Brandl said.
Coupled with the expanded inmate work program, the Sheriff’s Office has also found ways to save and make more money.
The office estimates a $200 savings monthly by taking away the hot and greasy breakfasts inmates were once accustomed to. They get cereal and fruit each morning. The inmates didn’t seem to mind much after the first couple days of the switch, one inmate said. The jail’s head cook, Ruth Ontiveros, who works closely with inmates every day, backed that up.
“At first they had a problem with it, but now I think they’re OK,” she said.
In terms of finding new ways to make money, the Sheriff’s Office has instituted booking fees. Someone going to jail now has to pay $30 to be booked and that money is divided among mental health services for the inmates, training for deputies and the actual booking process. The jail brought in $700 last month from the fees, and unless people stop going to jail, it’s a fairly reliable source of income, Cordingly said.
The Sheriff’s Office is also working on bringing in a money kiosk to the jail.
“It’s like an ATM to put money into inmates’ account,” Brandl said, adding that the kiosk would eliminate time and manpower for deputies to process funds into inmates’ accounts from family members and outside sources.
Cordingly said the new programs could eventually expand to not just save money for the Sheriff’s Office, but also the county.
Comparatively, the new measures barely dent the thinned-out sheriff’s budget, but Cordingly said they’re prudent steps and won’t go away.
“We’re going to keep it. If you have the money, why spend it?” she said. “If we can figure out something to try or implement to save us money, we’re going to go for it.”
Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.