Pitkin County commissioners direct wide, progressive parameters for jail design | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County commissioners direct wide, progressive parameters for jail design

Pitkin County Jail in Aspen.
The Aspen Times file photo

The Pitkin County Jail’s community role looks like it will expand beyond cells for inmates after the board of county commissioners directed staff in programming goals for the facility.

Members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee and the Core Project Team presented findings from a series of statewide county detention center visits and the Pitkin County Criminal Justice System Analysis to hear direction from the commissioners on programming – or the scope of facility design and objectives – for the jail.

The Tuesday work session was just an update and scope discussion, not final approvals for any plans to the future facility. 

County Manager Jon Peacock laid out specific topics for the commissioners to consider, including: 

  • Segregation of inmates by sex and risk classification 
  • Work-release beds
  • Space for programming – like individual and group therapy, substance use disorder treatment, religious services, exercise space, meeting areas for WebEx court appearances and meetings with lawyers, etc.
  • Construction of uniform housing units to maximize flexibility
  • Role in the community, i.e. detention center, community detox, community mental health, and to what degree

Commissioners all agreed that the topics laid out by staff were all good positions to approach the pre-design process. 

“The goal is to put people in jail that belong in jail and are a threat to the safety of the public,” said Undersheriff Alex Burchetta. “But those that don’t meet that standard … that are simply suffering from a mental-health crisis that’s acute or substance use disorder that might be acute or maybe something that’s more systemic that we need to deal with and provide them with case management – they don’t belong in jail; they belong in some of them getting treatment in some of these other places.”

The segregation of inmates by sex and risk classification is required by law, and an area in which the current facility struggled, according to Interim Detention Facility Director Dan Fellin. 

The CJCC is looking statewide, nationally, and internationally for industry best practice in housing of transgender inmates, Burchetta said.  

Site visits Pueblo, Boulder, Summit, Larimer, and Rio Blanco county facilities informed some of the pre-design priorities discussed at the work session. Members of the CJCC who visited relayed the other jails’ sentiments on the importance of wet cells – or cells with shower and toilet access and needing ample space for therapy sessions – among other topics. 

Staff also brought up the need to include a kitchen and laundry services on-site. 

One issue, however, was the prospect of co-location for the variety of services potentially to be offered at the facility. 

Bruschetta echoed the law-enforcement preference to have a “one-stop-shop” facility with all services in the same location for officers ease. Staff laid it out like a series of doors:

Door #1: Detention Center

Door #2: Community detox beds

Door #3: Community mental-health housing/services

County Commissioner McNicholas Kury said the co-location topic is something she would like to learn more about.

“I would like to hear more from the mental-health service providers before really landing on the decision about (co-location),” she said. Maybe pros and cons about how that stigma might get in the way of treatment, or about how co-location might actually really advance treatment?”

But final decisions on co-location will come later. Tuesday’s work session was specifically about determining a wide scope for the facility, especially relating to potential square footage needs.

The current facility could accommodate another 7,600 square feet of space, as it was designed for the potential for a second floor. A costly roof strengthening project adds to that total potential square footage. 

Budgetary impact discussions will also come later, Peacock said, after staff builds a more complete vision of programming and square footage scope for the project. 

He said that the design process will likely take another six to nine months with a rough construction timeline of about 18 months, so the new completed facility is years away. 

But the facility with temporary improvements — 10 beds with five more for work release inmates — should be ready by early to mid June. 

Sheriff Michael Buglione campaigned on the assertion that the county would not need a new facility, only that the current jail should be expanded upon/improved. In the work session, he pointed out that a second floor to the current building could house the new services like therapy or exercise rooms. 

But the county entered a time-constrained intergovernmental agreement with Eagle County in January for their detention facility to hold Pitkin County’s inmates, “so long as Pitkin County is making progress toward finalizing their construction project.”