Sheriff: Pitkin County Jail needs remodeling as part of proposed $10 million safety budget

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo wants to remodel the county jail to make it safer for inmates and head off any expensive lawsuits that might arise from current conditions, he said Thursday.

DiSalvo explained his concerns to Pitkin County commissioners during their annual discussion about the more than $10 million public safety budget, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, the emergency dispatch center and the jail.

“The jail is a big topic of discussion today,” DiSalvo said.

One of the main reasons to remodel the facility is the need to segregate male and female inmates, he said.

In the past, when inmate populations averaged in the single digits, it wasn’t a big deal for men and women to mingle in the jail’s common area. Now, with averages hovering around 18 to 19 inmates and an April 2017 incident where a man and a woman had sex in the jail for hours, that isn’t possible anymore, DiSalvo said.

Currently, jail deputies allow male and female inmates to alternate their use of the common area hourly, he said.

“That’s really not an effective way to manage the population,” DiSalvo said.

The best way to solve the problem is to establish separate wings for men and women, he said.

DiSalvo also said he wants to use the old dispatch center — located on the south side of the jail building — as a wing for inmates with mental-health issues. The center was used as a construction management office during construction of the county’s new building on Main Street, but has been empty since, he said.

Finally, the sheriff said he’d like to have an area for people arrested for DUI to be held and not mix them with the general population.

“Other jurisdictions have had major lawsuits over what we’re talking about,” he said.

All of those things can be done without increasing the facility’s footprint, he said.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the county already has budgeted $175,000 to hire an architect to come up with solutions. The problem will come in trying to implement those solutions, which has not been budgeted into the county’s five-year facilities plan, Peacock said.

Other jail needs include a full-time nurse to monitor inmates’ health and medication issues, which is expected to cost an extra $104,000 a year, according to the 2019 jail budget. Also, the Sheriff’s Office wants to hire another jail deputy in 2019. The jail’s total budget is expected to be $2.5 million. The total public safety budget of $10 million includes a combined 22 percent increase for the three departments.

The Sheriff’s Office increases include $29,500 for uniforms, personal protection equipment and new hire costs and $16,000 in new software to track evidence. The office also needs $71,000 to replace body armor and $41,000 for rifles and the firearms program. The sheriff’s budget is expected to be $4.51 million.

With a budget of $2.12 million, the dispatch center at the North Forty mainly needs a boost in its overtime fund, DiSalvo said. The center has a chronic shortage of employees, and DiSalvo encouraged people looking for a job to apply.

Commissioners were generally receptive to the funding increases.

The Pitkin County Coroner’s Office and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office also claim portions of the public safety budget. District Attorney Jeff Cheney is scheduled to talk to commissioners about his budget next week.