ALAMOSA — Alamosa city and county officials cleared the air over jail overcrowding misunderstandings during a recent work session.
“I just want us to have open dialogue,” said City Councilman Ty Coleman. He added that it is not comfortable for the city council to hear or read secondhand that overcrowding problems at the jail were being attributed to municipal inmates.
In April the Alamosa County commissioners delegated authority to Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson to reject municipal inmates if necessary. At that time the county officials and staff discussed concerns they had with inmates detained on municipal holds when the jail was already overcrowded.
City councilors during the recent city/county work session, said the jail overcrowding is not the city’s fault, with only about 10 inmates at most of the approximately 100 inmates being municipal inmates.
“It’s a community issue,” said Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.
Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis said the county tries to keep the jail population to about 95.
“We have had as high as 115,” she said. “The facility was built for 48.”
Dennis said the county has been shipping about 60 people out to other counties as far away as La Plata, Gunnison and Bent as well as to facilities in other San Luis Valley counties. (That costs the county about $45 per inmate per day.) She said the sheriff has tried to maximize jail space with measures such as stacking bunk beds, but the guys on the top bunks would kick out the light fixtures. She added that crowding so many people into such a small space creates a hostile environment.
“That is why he [sheriff] said ‘we’ve got to get rid of the city’s folks, let them figure out where they want to put them’,” Dennis said.
Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond said there were a couple of cases where people had been sentenced to prison but had municipal holds on them so they had to stay in jail rather than being transported to the Department of Corrections.
Brooks said every one of the inmates that had municipal holds on them that were allowed out on PR (personal recognizance) bonds did not show up for municipal court.
“That’s what we struggle with,” she said.
Brooks added “The last time we had this situation he [Municipal Judge Dan Powell] tried to meet with Robert. He had ideas what we could do to streamline it.”
The meeting did not take place, and “we have the issue again. That doesn’t feel good. He tried to be proactive … We have always taken this seriously.”
She said even if people are detained on non-municipal charges, which the Alamosa police can do and keep the city out of it, “there’s still the problem.”
She said it is something the entire community needs to address.
Alamosa City Councilor Kristina Daniel said, “I know any overcrowding is a big deal and I have seen the jail. Of the 115 people, the city’s were like 10.”
She added that there was a perception that people were being held in jail for not paying fines, but that was not true.
“We are not having a debtors’ jail,” she said.
She added, “We need to be clear in communication.”
Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said the way it came out, it seemed like the city inmates were causing the overcrowding problem, which was not the case and did not feel good for city council.
“Hopefully we are going forward and being proactive,” she said, “because we are in a partnership. The city is part of the county as well.”
Brooks said inmates might have a dual hold, not just municipal. She said the city judge and she are not arguing about the conditions of the jail, but municipal inmates are a small part of that problem. She said the way the county portrayed it, “it was almost like it was driven by municipal or that getting out municipal would solve the problem, and it’s not.”
Instead of looking at the problem that way, she suggested that the overcrowding issue should be viewed more in the vein of “all hands on deck” to solve it.
“We carry our weight, get out who we can,” she said.
With a portion of a citizen-approved 1-cent sales tax, the county will be expanding the jail by 64 beds. Commissioner Sigmond suggested the city might want to help pay for that.
“We may,” Brooks said.
Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn said although the sheriff is an elected official, the county must provide the jail facility as well as the courthouse. He said Alamosa County has an agreement to house inmates in Conejos County, and the sheriff suggested the city might want to do that as well. Brooks said the city was not comfortable doing that but might consider Rio Grande County or trying to keep municipal inmates out of the jail completely.