Sheriff’s office discusses jail staffing, inmate health insurance

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO)discussed inmate health insurance, staffing at the county’s new detention center and the county commissioners questioned the undersheriff about a payment request the ACSO made for BB guns that will be gifts for those involved with getting the new jail constructed.

Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez told the county commissioners at a work session Tuesday morning that the ACSO received bids from three different medical providers to provide services to Archuleta County inmates once the new jail opens in a few months.

He said the best bid was from Turn Key Health, for services seven days a week for eight hours a day, which costs $88,000 for six months, which will be prorated down to a five-month premium.

“Our recommendation, after looking at all these is definitely Turn Key. [They meet] all the needs that we are requesting,” said Valdez, adding, “Turn Key also has a little bit better mental health program [compared to the other bids].”

Valdez said that Turn Key currently has one other contract in Colorado, with Weld County.

“Which is one of the good things because they — you know, we’re dealing with all this COVID stuff and they’ve already been right in the middle of that with Weld County,” he said.

Valdez reported that none of the local health providers in Pagosa Springs responded to ACSO’s solicitation of bids to be the medical provider for the new county jail.

Turn Key is currently preparing a contract that will be voted on by the county commissioners in the upcoming days, according to the ACSO.

Jail staffing

Archuleta County Undersheriff Derek Woodman also discussed staffing needs at the county’s new jail, set to open around September.

“Last year during the budget process, we did provide some additional requests for staffing,” Woodman said to the commissioners. “We were authorized three additional positions at the time and that was a detention commander, a kitchen manager, which we filled, and an admin assistant, which we filled that internally. So those positions are filled, however the discussion was we know that there is more likely than not additional staff needs as we move in to opening up the facility.”

Woodman said additional staffing at the jail “comes back to an officer safety [thing] as well as a functionality issue.” 

He noted he understands the county is currently under financial constraints, but the jail has crucial operational needs.

In a phone call Wednesday, Woodman explained that, currently, ACSO has been authorized by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) for 10 personnel to staff the jail, plus two supervisors who are on duty for most shifts.

Woodman noted that with 10, the number of personnel would fluctuate between two and three people, plus the supervisors.

Woodman said the jail “cannot physically operate” with just two staffers plus the supervisors.

He noted that the allocated 10 staffers doesn’t include enough personnel for transport, to take inmates to the Archuleta County Courts currently being run out of Durango, or for relief if a staff member is on vacation or calls in sick.

Woodman explained that even with a kitchen manager hired for 40 hours a week, somebody else needs to be hired to supervise “trustee” inmates in the kitchen during the manager’s days off.

“Trustees” are sentenced inmates who meet a certain set of criteria related to their behavior and charges, and can help aid in the preparation of meals, according to Woodman.

Commissioner Steve Wadley asked if it was possible for the trustees to prepare meals without supervision.

“You just can’t throw the inmates in the kitchen and say, ‘Here’s a sharp knife. Go for it.’ There needs to be oversight,” Woodman said.

It is unclear if the BoCC will approve additional ACSO staff members to help run the jail.

BB guns

At the commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Wadley took issue with one payment request made by the ACSO that was in the commissioners’ accounts payable agenda item.

The ACSO had made a $1,385 payment request for 60 BB guns, which the ACSO planned to give out as gifts when the county’s new jail opens in a few months.

“I just wanted to get some explanation on 60 Red Ryder BB guns for a total of $1,385 and there may be a very just reason to buy ‘em, but I’m wondering if we could hear what the reason is,” said Wadley.

“Under the sheriff’s approved budget, he thought there would be a very appropriate, as honoria for the opening of the new detention facility, to honor some specific individuals, also including staff, for the commemorative opening of that facility,” Woodman said.

“Derek, I’m kinda caught in a tough spot,” Wadley said. “I understand that once you guys have the budget, it’s yours to spend, but the flip side is these things come before us for a review and I feel like I’m held accountable to the taxpayers and it’s $1,300 that you know, we’ve got a county full of potholes and a lotta needs in a lotta areas. I mean I just — I question it and I wondered what your thoughts are on it.”

“Well, it’s a $25-per-unit piece that goes to many different individuals, initially to you folks as well, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and that was the justification for it,” said Woodman.

Woodman added later, “If this is something you guys don’t wish to approve, then please remove it from the request and the sheriff and I will personally pay for it and we’ll take care of it.”

“Derek, I’d be happy to kick in, personally. I’ll offer you $200 out of my own pocket, and please understand, I’m not trying to be a tough guy with this or try to make an issue out of it, but these things get reported and I feel like I’ve gotta stand to account on money that we spend. And I get it that we need it, it’s an event and if it’s a pen or a patch or something I wouldn’t care, but it just seems like a sizable amount, and if you’re looking for donors I’d be happy to contribute personally.”

Commissioners Maez and Schaaf also offered to pitch in $200 each.

The three county commissioners voted unanimously to approve the accounts payable agenda item with the exception of the invoice for the BB guns.

This story was posted on July 14, 2020.