Carbondale Middle School really IS a prison, at least for a few days |

Carbondale Middle School really IS a prison, at least for a few days

The convoy down Highway 82 from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs Tuesday morning was one of the more unusual seen in recent years.

It was led by a Garfield County sheriff’s department vehicle with its civilian emergency lights flashing, followed by three RFTA buses with emergency lights flashing, and backed by three more sheriff’s department vehicles with the same lights flashing.

In all, there were seven vehicles in a line in the right hand lane, and they were not speeding.

The three buses were filled with 90 Garfield County jail inmates, evacuated to Carbondale Middle School Saturday night after the Coal Seam Fire exploded. The Eagle County jail received six women and 10 higher-risk male inmates.

“We didn’t want to co-mingle them in Carbondale,” said Garfield County sheriff’s department spokesperson Ron VanMeter. He also noted the Carbondale inmates were all low and medium risk males.

VanMeter said the school was picked as an evacuation site for the jail months ago, “But I’m not sure why Carbondale Middle School was chosen.”

The school sits in the middle of a tree lined neighborhood on Sopris Street, three blocks south of Main Street.

VanMeter said the jail was evacuated for two reasons.

Thick smoke from the Coal Seam fire blanketing downtown Glenwood Springs Saturday night would have been sucked into the jail’s ventilation system.

And the out-of-control fire on nearby Red Mountain was also visible from some jail cells.

“Some of the inmates were getting funky … asking `What are you going to do for us,'” VanMeter said.

For the trip to and from Carbondale, inmates wrists and ankles were handcuffed, and they were also shackled together in pairs.

The inmates were housed in the school’s gym and slept on wrestling mats. Inmates spent part of their time watching videos from Blockbuster. “I expect they probably played some basketball, too,” VanMeter said.

Meals were brought in from the jail’s main kitchen.

VanMeter said there were no fights during the inmates’ stay in Carbondale. He attributed that fact to luck, good training for deputies, taking good care of the men.

“The detention staff deserves most of the credit. It was a unique situation,” VanMeter said.

Unarmed National Guard members also helped watched the inmates for part of their three-day stay in the valley. After the move was completed Tuesday, National Guard troops were demobilized.

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