Legislative committee to investigate jail crowding

Montezuma County Sheriff: ‘We have to increase our fees’

Deputy Jarod Kaime keeps track of the status of inmates in the bonding area of the Montezuma County Jail in 2012. Overcrowding and lack of funds plagues the jail. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal file

Deputy Jarod Kaime keeps track of the status of inmates in the bonding area of the Montezuma County Jail in 2012. Overcrowding and lack of funds plagues the jail.

DENVER – Staffing and funding will be priorities of discussion Monday when the County Courthouse and County Jail Funding and Overcrowding Solutions Interim Study Committee will hold the first of five meetings.

The committee will hear from experts and law enforcement officials throughout the summer, including Capt. Vici Pierce, of Montezuma County, who will talk to the committee Monday about crowding at the jail.

“We just don’t have the detention staff to keep it safe for the numbers that we have,” Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said of his county jail.

On a typical day, the Montezuma County Jail houses 90 to 105 inmates. During any given eight-hour period has four deputies on duty, resulting in a inmate-to-officer ratio in excess of 22 to 1. The ratio not only affects safety, which Nowlin said is the biggest concern, it also creates fiscal challenges.

According to an analysis conducted in 2016, it cost $62-$69 a day for Montezuma to hold an inmate, but the Department of Corrections reimburses only $54.39, Nowlin said. The reimbursement gap is narrower when it comes to parole violators, who are charged $56.80 a day.

While the difference in reimbursement might seem small on an individual level, it adds up when you consider the 33,000 inmate days the Montezuma County Jail averages a year, Nowlin said.

To keep the jail running, he is constantly looking for ways to save money, including finding new vendors for food and putting off maintenance, he said.

But the buck can only be pushed so far.

“We have to increase our fees. The cost is just too much,” he said.

Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said jails in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel counties face the same issues.

“One thing I know they are all concerned with is holding prisoners that have been assigned to the Department of Corrections,” Coram said.

La Plata County Jail officials did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City, said the initial meeting will likely be more of a listening session about how local agencies are dealing with the issues of overcrowding and limited funding.

“I’m anxious to hear different ways they have addressed it,” Benavidez said.

The bipartisan group will then begin focusing on if legislative bills are be necessary to aid local agencies.

Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo who requested the study committee, said he hopes these bills will include non-fiscal solutions, such as re-evaluating sentencing and substitutes for jail time.

“Money is a big part of these conversation but it’s not the only part,” Garcia said.

lperkins@durangoherald.comA earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the reimbursement rate from the Department of Corrections to be $61 a day and said the rate of reimbursement for parolees was lower. It has been corrected.