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County jail gets high grades

The Garfield County Jail has received high marks for its design and management from the National Institute of Corrections in Longmont that conducted an assessment of the jail in August. Sheriff Lou Vallario presented the findings to the county commissioners Monday.Jail evaluator William Crout called the jail a clean and well-lit place where “jail staff is respectful to the inmates and they expect the inmates to be respectful to them – which most times they are.”The four-story jail, at 107 Eighth St. in Glenwood Springs, opened in 2001, replacing an antiquated and overcrowded jail in the county courthouse. It was designed to house 192 inmates in maximum-, medium- and minimum-security housing units.Crout visited the jail on Aug. 30 and 31 and Sept. 1. He gave highest marks to technological innovations used at the jail. When inmates are booked into the jail they are given an iris scan, a new method of determining a person’s identity by taking an image of the unique ridges in the colored area of a person’s eye. The scan ensures the jail releases the correct person and aids in identifying people who are repeatedly arrested and who may give a false identity.He also praised the jail’s video visiting system, which allows inmates to visit via video monitors that are installed in each cell area and connected to public visiting monitors next to the administration offices in the jail building. Such a setup “is safer, less costly and staff-intensive to operate,” Crout said in his report to the sheriff.However, Crout also found some weaknesses. At the top of the list was overcrowding in the area where inmates are first booked into or out of the jail. When they are first brought into the jail, inmates are held in this area until they make their first court appearance.”The cell space in the Intake/Release unit is currently marginal at best, and will only get worse with the growth of the inmate population,” Crout said.He also called the area housing Community Corrections inmates inadequate. Inmates in the program leave for the day to work outside the jail and return in the afternoon or evening.”Community Corrections is currently taking up valuable, and expensive, jail beds,” Crout said. The program, which is administered separately from the sheriff’s department, needs to find a permanent place to house these inmates, Crout said.Among other recommendations he made were to allow maximum security inmates more than the one hour they have outside their cells each day. Inmates would earn more than the allotted hour with good behavior. Crout said more out-of-cell time would decrease tension among the inmates.He also suggested housing two inmates per cell rather than the current practice of single occupancy cells, as a way to create additional beds in the units.Vallario also said the audit pointed up the possible need for additional jail staff given the amount of overtime that is clocked now. Vallario said he will ask for four new positions in the jail as part of the 2006 budget.He also said he was pleased with the results of the assessment.”Considering other jails I’ve seen … these are minor issues overall,” he said.Commissioner John Martin, who was a Glenwood Springs policeman for many years, applauded the jail’s operations.”This is a different kind of facility. It’s direct contact. We took a chance with that design. It’s a positive note to hear it’s working,” he said.Rather than following the more traditional approach, which has jailers somewhat removed from inmates, each cell unit of 30 to 40 inmates is built around an open day room and is supervised by one deputy.Vallario also commended jail Commander Scott Dawson and his staff for their work.


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