Controlling the inmates

Commissioners, sheriff look to manage jail population

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In September, the inmate population at Moffat County Jail peaked at 96 inmates. The county built the jail to house no more than 88 adult inmates.

In October, the jail population peaked at 87 inmates.

For months, the Moffat County sheriff has been saying the jail's staffing levels are insufficient to manage the growing population, making the jail an unsafe place to work.

But the Moffat County commissioners and Sheriff Buddy Grinstead have been at a stalemate on how to handle the staffing problem. During a meeting Tuesday, they showed signs of working toward a resolution.

Two factors have led to the increase in the inmate population. As methamphetamine-related crime has risen, so have the inmate levels. At the same time, the county is bringing in prisoners from other jurisdictions and holding them for a profit.

The commissioners said the sheriff could manage for both factors.

They plan to hold a workshop with the 14th Judicial District judges and prosecutors to discuss ways to shorten the time inmates are held in the jail while awaiting trial. A date has yet to be set.

Grinstead estimated about 60 percent to 65 percent of county inmates are awaiting trial. He cited one case in which the jail held an inmate for a year, but charges were dropped three days before the trial because the victim could not be found.

"If we could shorten that time span, would that save us money?" Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos asked.

To control the second factor, the commissioners urged Grinstead and Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg to accept fewer inmates from other jurisdictions if their presence is adversely affecting safety.

These inmates, who Grinstead refers to as "paying clients," come here from Sweetwater and Carbon counties in Wyoming, and a backlog of state Department of Corrections prisoners in Mesa County.

The jail holds an average of 25 such inmates, earning the county about $1,000 a day, Hoberg said.

"To say we're operating at 84 daily population and it's beyond our parameters of safety is, quite frankly, a reflection on management. They're taking more than they can safely handle," Commissioner Les Hampton said.

Hampton and the other commissioners said they would support hiring additional staff for the jail if the money were available and the sheriff showed them data demonstrating a consistent upward trend in the population.

"Until we can afford to put the dollars there, it is incumbent on you to manage at safe levels," Hampton said.

If this meant turning away paying clients, the commissioners said they would be fine with that.

Commissioner-elect Saed Tayyara said 14 people contacted him between Oct. 23 and Nov. 2 to express concern about the safety of detention officers at the jail.

He urged the commissioners to find a way to increase jail staffing.

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