LETTER: Why We Need a New Jail

Many ask, why do we need a new jail? When the old jail flooded in April of 2015, the only recourse left to Sheriff Valdez was to contract with the La Plata County jail in Durango to house any prisoners from Archuleta that needed to be incarcerated, up to a total of 35. That is what we have been doing for the last 29 months.

What that means is our 14 deputies who would normally be running a Detention Facility have been turned into 14 deputies rotating the duty of running a transport service between Pagosa Springs and Durango, two officers required for each trip (one to drive and one to guard). From the proposed location in Harman Park, a round trip down to court and back to jail is about 4 miles. It is about 120 miles round trip between downtown Pagosa and the jail in Durango, 240 miles for the two round trips required to go get the prisoner, bring back to court and then take back to jail and come back home — 60 times as many miles of exposure on Hwy 160 for each court appearance. According to vehicle logs for 2016 and so far in 2017 (2015’s data is at the office downtown and not currently accessible) prisoner transportation vehicles travelled 34,094 miles in 2016 and 32,283 miles through August in 2017 (projected 48,425 by year end). That’s 66,377 miles of exposure in the last 20 months for our deputies that would be unnecessary if we had our own jail.

So far there have been no major incidents or significant injuries, but there has been one ‘close call’ when the vehicle directly in front of our detention transport was ‘T-boned’ as they passed an intersection in Bayfield. Our detention officers were able to hit the brakes and avoid the accident and debris. Since they were on their way to pick up a prisoner and did not have one in the vehicle, they were able to stop and render assistance. Drivers of both vehicles in the accident died at the scene. If our officers had had a prisoner in the vehicle they would not have been able to stop and help. If they had been 1-2 seconds faster in their drive, they could have been the vehicle T-boned.

The question is – how much longer can we expect our luck to hold, how long before the law of averages catches up with our deputies and they are involved in a major accident on this dangerous stretch of highway, how long before a stretch of black ice catches them or someone coming towards them unawares and kills a deputy or a prisoner, or both?

We are entering into our third winter since the jail was rendered un-inhabitable, our third winter driving to and from the La Plata County jail. Will this be the winter that takes its toll on our deputies? We need our own jail.

Jim Huffman
Pagosa Springs, CO

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