SAGUACHE — Following a tour of Saguache County Jail last month, Colorado Public Radio justice reporter Allison Sherry expressed dismay that “the sheriff’s department is severely underpaid and understaffed” and only four deputies patrol the entire county.
Sherry also was concerned by the fact that air vents in the current jail allow for the passage back and forth of contraband and that locks on the jail cells could easily be compromised.
“She was freaked out a little bit obviously,” Jail Captain Ken Wilson commented Monday. “This [building] was not ever built to be a jail.” Instead the jail was meant to be an early sheriff’s residence and was later converted to a jail. Jail cells were fashioned out of bedrooms in the residence.
Boulder district attorney and former attorney general candidate Michael Dougherty toured the jail in 2017 and told Sherry that what he saw in Saguache was “absolutely horrific.” This from a prosecutor with over two decades of practice behind him who has been inside some of the roughest jails in the country, including San Quentin and Riker’s Island in New York State.
Although two additional deputies are being hired, the increase in crime since the migration of marijuana grows to the county calls for a substantial increase in deputies just to handle patrol duties, as Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick often has remarked.
Sherry took issue with Saguache County’s one percent sales tax, which she felt was way too low for county needs, Wilson indicated. She also observed in her article that many people feel there is no problem with the jail believing prisoners do not deserve state of the art facilities, one of the reasons the attempt to pass a ballot to fund the new jail failed in 2016.
“They could have a three percent sales tax and give one and a half percent to the jail and the other half percent to the county,” Wilson noted, adding this would still allow commissioners to make sales tax grants. This could avoid an actual bond issue for the jail.
County commissioners are mandated by state statute to make provision for jails, also allocate sufficient funds for public health and weed control. Recently, commissioners have made inquiry into the possibility of a several Valley county jail system and have looked into jails run as private public partnerships.
Second oldest jail in state
The oldest jail in the state is in Leadville and is located in the courthouse basement, Wilson said. The Saguache jail was built in 1957, with a new wing added in 1996-97. It is plagued with various structural issues, from outdated wiring, to recurring mold in the shower area and malfunctioning heating units, also air circulation issues.
Housed in a nearly 60-year-old facility, prisoners in Saguache are scattered along three different wings, making it difficult for jailers to address problems if something is happening in more than one wing at a time. A new camera system was installed following a riot and fire in 2016 but it would still be hard to monitor multiple incidents, jail staff noted in 2016.
Warwick also has commented in the past that it is not a good idea to have a jail in such close proximity to the courthouse, downtown area and especially Mountain Valley School.
As of early 2018, there are plans to build a small recreation yard with grant funds from the county as a partial solution to the problem.
The county discontinued its trustee program three years ago because the jail was understaffed and there were safety issues regarding supervision. Two prisoners escaped from the jail last year but were recaptured.