Handcuffed By Voters, Pueblo Jail Officials Don’t See A Clear Fix For ‘No Room At The Inn’

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<p>Allison Sherry/CPR News</p>
<p>The Pueblo County Jail is often more than 150 people over capacity and deputies say it will only get worse this summer — the jail’s busiest and most crowded time.</p>
Photo: Pueblo Overcrowding 1 | Jail Pod - ASherry
The Pueblo County Jail is often more than 150 people over capacity and deputies say it will only get worse this summer — the jail’s busiest and most crowded time.

Pueblo County officials say they’re really worried about the summer — which is a jail’s busiest time.

The county jail here is the most overcrowded facility in the state.

Voters rejected a sales tax increase in 2017 to expand the jail. Since then, deputies are trying to make do, but even over the winter, the jail was usually a couple of hundred people over capacity every day.

Among the jail's issues: Pipes often break from the pressure of so many people, toilet water leaks on the guards and minimum security inmates mix with maximum security inmates because the pods are full. A guard was recently attacked on Christmas Day by an inmate and beaten.

The inmate was put in a solitary room with a glass door. Heather Gonzales worked on the other side of the glass door shortly after the attack.

“He threatened me a whole bunch this week, to kick out the glass door, which is literally just a glass door between him and me,” she said, breaking into tears on a video produced by the sheriff’s department to keep the drumbeat going for a new jail. “He’s currently a three-officer inmate but we don't really have the manpower to staff extra people, you know, so I mean he threatened to kick the door through the window and do physical harm to me.”

Photo: Pueblo Overcrowding 2 | Deputy Search - ASherry
Deputies search a pod after a pizza dough knife went missing from the kitchen.

Voters rejected the ask for tax increase to build a new jail and convert the current building into a rehabilitation facility by almost ten percentage points last November — despite a campaign supported by many local leaders.

Pueblo Undersheriff J.R. Hall said he respects the voters’ decision, but at some point the department will be legally required to expand the current facility. Officials have said they fear a lawsuit because of the conditions.

“We know the citizens turned down that type of tax for a new jail and we've been listening to them,” Hall said. “They said not yet, it's not a matter of if it's a matter of when.”

Photo: Pueblo Overcrowding 3 | Lt. Doug Sykes - ASherry
Lt. Douglas Sykes says guards are working in dangerous conditions because the Pueblo County Jail is so over capacity.

Hall said they are considering adding mobile units outside — similar to what they do in overcrowded schools — to accommodate more people.

Lt. Doug Sykes said the working conditions are deeply unfair to those staffing the burgeoning pods. Inmates are often sleeping in temporary plastic boat-shaped containers on the floor because there are no more beds.

“There's just no room in the inn. We only have so many hard beds. And then after that they have to go to the floor,” he said. “We don't have a turn off. If they arrested 100 more people today, we would have to house them some kind of way.”

Read More: Colorado's Jails Are Deeply Overcrowded. What's Being Done?