Vallario explains his reasons for ending agreement to house Pitkin County inmates in Garfield jail

Garfield County Sheriff's Office and Detention Center.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said Monday that mounting costs and lack of progress toward building a new jail in Pitkin County led him to sever a courtesy agreement to house Pitkin inmates in the Garfield County Jail.

And politics, of course.

“I no longer wish to house Pitkin County inmates, because the agreement was that they would move toward substantial progress to build a new jail,” Vallario said when questioned about the decision during the Garfield County commissioners meeting.

The three-year agreement signed in March 2021 was intended to buy time for Pitkin County to expand its jail or build a new one to be able to adequately and safely separate certain types of inmates. Garfield County agreed to hold some of the neighboring county’s inmates in the meantime, Vallario said.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario interacts with supporters during a 2018 election Republican watch party. Vallario was elected again in November 2022 to a sixth four-year term as sheriff.
Post Independent archive

But Vallario noted that newly inaugurated Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione had made it clear during his campaign to unseat the former sheriff, Joe DiSalvo — with whom Vallario negotiated the agreement — that he did not think a new jail was needed.

Some of Pitkin County’s commissioners also view things that way, Vallario said.

“I was not about to get into a tug-of-war between those who do and those who don’t (want to build a new jail),” he said.

The cost to house the out-of-county inmates was also coming in significantly more than the state rate of $60 per day, per inmate, he said.

“We’re well north of $100,” Vallario said.

And, one of the Pitkin County inmates has filed a lawsuit against the county, which Garfield County is now having to litigate, he added.

Vallario informed Buglione last week, the day after Buglione was sworn into office, that he was ending the deal. Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to cancel the intergovernmental agreement, but said it was Vallario’s call as the elected sheriff and administrator of the jail.

In the meantime, the Eagle County Detention Facility in Eagle is now housing Pitkin County’s excess inmates, under an emergency agreement last week between Buglione and Eagle County Sheriff Jame van Beek.

However, that is not a long-term deal, the Aspen Times reported on Monday.

“We haven’t reached an understanding yet on that one,” van Beek told the Times. “Our intent is shorter term, not longer term and obviously if my population starts to increase to a point that holding them becomes a nuisance, shall we say, or a problem, we always have a right to say, ‘We can’t do this anymore … come get them.’ And they know that, as well.’” 

Buglione defeated three-term Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo in the November elections and campaigned on the declaration that the county did not need a new jailhouse but could improve what it had, in sharp contrast to the incumbent’s vision for a modernized, larger facility.

In last week’s emails sent to both Buglione and Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, Vallario said he was ending the IGA because of the politics at play. 

“As a result of your re-assessment of the Pitkin County Jail,” Vallario wrote, “the IGA regarding the housing of Pitkin County detainees at the Garfield County Jail is no longer necessary. It is no longer in the best interests of Garfield County to devote jail resources to housing Pitkin County inmates on a courtesy basis.”

The IGA was set to expire in December 2023.

Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at or at 970-384-9160.

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