Garfield County jail getting more space for defense-inmate meetings |

Garfield County jail getting more space for defense-inmate meetings

Ryan Summerlin

Although it’s a relatively inexpensive capital request from the sheriff’s office, a project to expand space in the Garfield County Jail for defense attorneys to meet with their clients is hoped to significantly ease congestion in the court dockets.

The jail currently has only one room for defense attorneys to meet face-to-face with their clients.

The public defenders and the other defense attorneys have been frustrated with scheduling and access to their clients due to this limited space, said Sheriff Lou Vallario.

Tina Fang, head of the Glenwood Springs public defender’s office, said that since she came to the office nearly 10 years ago there has been an ongoing struggle to make sure the attorneys can meet with their clients.

And a big part of that is the lack of space at the jail.

Another room allows them to meet with clients, but with a glass between them.

“So if you need to communicate on paper, have the client read his discovery or sign something, you can’t get that done. And that’s honestly about 50 to 75 percent of what we do when we meet out clients.

“Not having enough attorney visitation space I think directly impacts jail numbers,” Fang told Garfield County commissioners during a budget hearing Nov. 1. Fang showed up to support Vallario’s capital request to expand the meeting space.

“You want to see the quickest way to see a judicial district’s numbers go up? Put some public defenders in those dockets who can’t meet with their clients,” she said.

“You will immediately see the sorts of unnecessary delays” that the chief judge, the sheriff and the district attorney’s office talk about.

Fang said this move will decrease jail numbers because cases will move faster due to clients receiving information faster.

“While at first blush this doesn’t seem like an issue that will save money, it actually might,” she said. “I think it does impact congestion in dockets and it could have a fiscal impact on the county and probably has for a long time, but we don’t’ know what that is because it’s almost impossible to quantify,” said Fang.

Because of this lack of space, the sheriff’s office is always teetering on the edge of being accused of denying the defendant’s right to see an attorney, Vallario said.

Commissioners green lighted the project for the 2017 budget, which is scheduled to be approved Nov. 18. This project is estimated to cost $50,000.

The sheriff plans to make room for two, possibly three, more interview rooms in a space currently used as a library.

Two new state laws going into effect next year are going to impact the way the jail conducts defendant interviews and will call for more space as well.

These laws mandate recording of certain kinds of interviews by law enforcement, said Fang.

First, interviews for class 1 felonies, class 2 felonies and all felony sexual assaults will have to be recorded. Also, when a defendant raises a mental health defense, they have to be interviewed by a state forensic doctor, which also has to be recorded.

The jail will likely be the location that all local law enforcement will use to conduct those recorded interviews, Vallario said.

“The sheriff is very much going to feel the weight of having to provide that service because each local police department doesn’t have that capability right now,” said Fang.

So the jail needs the space to have recording equipment in some rooms, the sheriff said.

For attorney-client confidentiality, defense attorneys need a room free of any recording equipment.

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