Pitkin inmates to be transferred during jail project
Since it was built in 1984, the Pitkin County Jail has never needed to house a person in a wheelchair.
“We’ve had people in wheelchairs in (the) booking (area),” said Jail Administrator Don Bird. “But we’ve never had someone in a wheelchair confined.”
And while no one knows when that might occur, the jail’s ability to host such a person long-term is about to change. Beginning some time around June 1, Pitkin County will begin a $300,000 “systems upgrade” that will mostly shut down the facility for four to six weeks, said Jodi Smith, the county’s facilities manager.
To allow that to happen in a timely fashion, deputies will transfer the jail’s inmate population — currently at 16 — to the Garfield County Jail for duration of the project, Bird said. The jail will continue to operate the booking area and the work release program and be able to house an inmate overnight or for a few hours for a court date, he said.
Garfield County jail officials could charge Pitkin County the going rate of $50 per inmate per day. However, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario has offered to house them for free, Bird said.
“It’s very generous of Sheriff Vallario and (Garfield County Jail Commander) Kim Sills to offer,” Bird said. “It’s very generous and very unexpected.”
Pitkin County will continue to pay for its inmates’ medical needs and transport inmates between the two jails, he said. However, the arrangement will allow Pitkin County to save $22,500 a month, for example, if 15 inmates are transferred.
Vallario said the arrangement is part common courtesy, part quid pro quo.
“I want to help other sheriffs,” he said. “Because some day I’ll need (Pitkin County Sheriff) Joe (DiSalvo) to help me.”
The Garfield County Jail’s capacity is more than 200 inmates, and it held 124 as of Friday, so it can easily absorb Pitkin County inmates, he said.
The Garfield County Jail is also experiencing a staffing crunch at the moment, so Pitkin County deputies may go down and work a few shifts with their colleagues in Glenwood Springs, Bird and Vallario said.
“That would really help us,” Vallario said.
Smith and Bird emphasized that the project is not a renovation of the jail, but rather an opportunity to bring the facility into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, address concerns from the local fire marshal and perform routine maintenance.
“We always assumed the jail was ADA compliant because it’s all on one floor,” Bird said.
That, however, is not the case.
So contractors will focus one of the larger cells originally built to house juveniles, which is now set up like a dormitory with bunk beds, and reconfigure it for an inmate in a wheelchair, Bird said. The room not only has a bathroom, but a shower, which makes it ideal, he said, though it will have to be completely reconfigured.
The jail never housed juvenile inmates in that cell and one other like it because soon after the facility was built it became illegal to house juveniles with adult offenders, Bird said.
Contractors will also install sprinklers in each cell, a condition of the fire marshal, he said. Sprinklers are currently installed only in common areas, Bird said.
Other improvements will include new carpeting and paint and an upgrade to the jail’s camera system, Smith said.