Election ’22, Pitkin BOCC candidates: Kelly McNicholas Kury, Day 4

Staff report
Kelly McNicholas Kury
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This week The Aspen Times is publishing a series of questions and answers from the two candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissionersincumbent Kelly McNicholas Kury and challenger Erin Smiddy. The District 1 seat for the BOCC is also on the ballot with incumbent Commissioner Patti Clapper running unopposed. Election Day is Nov. 8, and ballots were mailed out last week.

Today’s question: Does Pitkin County need new and bigger jail facility, or is the current facility fine the way it is with a few improvements?

Kelly McNicholas Kury: Our current jail needs improvements. But, it is not enough to simply discuss renovation of the jail facility. I believe we need to have a comprehensive conversation with the community about providing the best programs and services to those who are in our jail with the goal of lowering recidivism and returning people to our community in a way they can thrive.

I want to see a detentions system that protects victims first and foremost, is safe for all who interact with it, provides options to divert nonviolent offenders with low risk of fleeing, supports those who qualify for work release, offers rehabilitation for those with mental-health and substance-abuse disorders, has space for therapeutic programing for inmates, is connected with external service providers who can assist with healthy re-entry transitions, and is physically designed to provide direct supervision operations. 

I am proud to be the BOCC designee for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) which includes members of our District Attorney’s Office, our Chief Justice of the 9th Circuit, the Public Defender, legal services, public-health department, human services, county administration, the sheriff’s office, and jail — along with the BOCC — to tackle these conversations.

I have a personal history with a sibling who has had mental-health and substance-abuse disorders and has been in and out of incarceration over time. Our family has struggled to know how best to support them, and I’ve observed the opportunities they were given through the justice system to enter into treatment as opposed to detention. 

After touring other jails and learning about best practices, I’ve learned that our jail does have deficiencies we should remedy. We do not have a room for detainees to meet confidentially with their attorneys. We don’t have a space dedicated to therapeutic programming. We can design cells that are flexible to the level of seriousness of the crimes committed, so both maximum- and minimum-security detainees will be treated with the same level of dignity and decency. I voted to approve the recent upgrades to the booking area and the work-release rooms at the current jail facility, allowing inmates to retain their connections with their jobs and the community.

I talk with my colleagues around the state to learn from them on these issues, and I advocated for increased Jail Based Behavioral Health funding that we can apply for to fund program improvements, and I’m following the Jail Based Standards Commission to understand what requirements may be placed on county jails. I will additionally stay on the CJCC and remain intimately involved in the BOCC discussions about creating better programming, hiring sufficient levels of staff to support a direct supervision jail, and designing an upgraded facility that honors our community’s values of treating people with humanity and respect.