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Jul 16, 2013 9:28 PM by Andy Koen

Oversight takes back seat to new halfway house contract

PUEBLO - Pueblo County Commissioners are planning to spend money soon on a new halfway house even before they put together an oversight panel to keep an eye on their existing facilities.

The commissioners will ask for bids to take over the service once provided by Community Corrections Services Incorporated (CCSI) which closed in May.

"We really have the opportunity today to put the best vendor we can get into a facility that's now sitting vacant," said commissioner Sal Pace.

Following the CCSI closure, News 5 reported on numerous public safety concerns at the all of the halfway houses in the community. Auditors with the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice reported guards at CCSI were found sleeping on the job, falsified head counts and delayed reporting of escapes.

In April, an inmate named Jamie Salazar escaped from CCSI and allegedly raped and beat his girlfriend. He was on the run for three weeks before being arrested.

In another case, an inmate named Adam Beauchamp took a lethal amount of the drug Fentanyl while doing time at Minnequa Community Corrections. He apparently bought the drug inside the facility and no one noticed he'd stopped breathing until it was too late.

The Division of Criminal Justice most recently ranked Minnequa and Crossroads Turning Points among the highest risk facilities in the state.

As the only county in the state without a local community corrections oversight board, the commissioners are obliged to keep tabs on how well those facilities meet state safety standards.

Commissioner Terry Hart believes both Minnequa and Crossroads have put in place reforms that help meet those guidelines.

"The public safety questions and concerns have been resolved to the satisfaction of our staff and the state staff."

The commissioners want to create an oversight panel structured on the best practices observed from other counties around the state. The panel would assume the power to grant licenses and issue contracts as well as responsibility of local oversight.

Hart wanted to have the panel in place before a new contract was issued but says he was out-voted by his colleagues.

"My two colleagues were anxious about that, feeling that we might be bringing in people to clean up our own mess," Hart said.

Commissioner Pace points out that he and his colleagues all have experience with criminal justice issues, and he says they needed to address the safety concerns before standing up a new panel.

"We want to straighten the ship and hand that over to the new community corrections board so that they're not dealing with a nightmare from day one."

Pace says the contract will have performance standards written in that will give commissioners the power to take money away if the standards aren't met.

"If they're not meeting these performance standards we're going to be able to yank the contract immediately."

A lot of money is at stake. The county currently pays Minnequa $37.74 per inmate, per day. That amounts to $1.03 million dollars a year for a facility that manages 75 inmates.

It's not clear when the commissioners will vote on creating a community corrections board. Hart hopes the issue  will be on the agenda in either September or October. Pace doesn't think it will happen until next year.

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