Solving jail impasse requires better communication, says sheriff
The brouhaha building over housing municipal prisoners in the Garfield County Jail has an easy solution. At least that’s how county sheriff Tom Dalessandri sees it.
Last week, Silt Police Chief Paul Taylor wrote a letter to the county commissioners objecting that the jail will take only municipal prisoners who have been sentenced. He said he needs to house his pre-sentence prisoners, who are now jailed in other counties.
If the municipalities would agree to a few simple rules, he’ll be glad to take all municipal prisoners, he said. But so far the towns have been unwilling to come to the table to talk about it with him.
Dalessandri said it’s always been his plan to accept all types of municipal prisoners, but he’s held off on accepting pre-sentenced prisoners until he sees how they will impact the jail, especially since it’s understaffed.
“We’ve been in a training mode since it opened,” he said.
But the new jail is understaffed by about six people, said jail administrator Dan Hall.
“We have 52 staff. It’s barebones,” he said.
The number of prisoners housed in the jail has actually dropped since prisoners were transferred over from the old jail in November, Dalessandri said. As of noon Thursday, there were 110 prisoners in the jail.
Total capacity is 200, he said.
But it’s a “pretty high population” for the present staff, he added.
Dalessandri’s main concerns about accepting municipal prisoners revolve around paying for health care and making sure the prisoners receive due process of law.
Once the prisoners are in the jail, the towns tend to consider them the county’s problem, Dalessandri said. If any of them have health problems, the county must pay for it.
That’s fine if they’ve been sentenced to the county jail, he said, but not OK if they haven’t gone to trial or been sentenced.
Municipalities will pay $15 a day for their prisoners to be housed in the county jail.
Last week the county commissioners approved a resolution that allows the jail to take municipal prisoners. But specific agreements about what kinds of prisoners will be taken, and other details, have yet to be worked out between the sheriff and the various municipalities in the county.
Further, Dalessandri said he worries about liability, since in his experience many municipal prisoners come into the jail without getting a judicial hearing within 48 hours of arrest, as mandated by law.
Local police “bring them in on any kind of lightweight charge, and they might not see a judge for a week or more,” he said.
County and district court judges rotate being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for such hearings, Dalessandri said.
Municipal judges are usually part-time and not always available after hours, he added.
“Municipal courts don’t understand that we’re holding people who are not getting their due process,” he said. And it is the jail administrator who is liable if a prisoner elects to sue.
“They have to work with us,” he said of municipalities. “They haven’t come to the table. I’m a little perturbed that Silt doesn’t want to sign the agreement. We said we’d start with sentenced prisoners until we work out the details.
“We recognize their needs and we’re willing to address them, but we won’t act irresponsibly,” Dalessandri said.
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