CUSTER COUNTY — The Custer County Jail closed its doors Friday after a unanimous decision made by Custer County Commissioners in late December. The jail will transfer all inmates to the Fremont County Jail after the two counties reached an agreement.
According to a Facebook post by the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, the decision was made due to the condition and design of the jail, the cost per day of housing inmates, and new legislation raising the standard of jails in Colorado. Legislators passed House Bill 1063 in June of 2022, which created the Jail Standards Commission to recommend health and safety standards in jails.
Custer County Undersheriff Lloyd Smith said after discussions with an engineering firm to design a new prison, the estimated cheapest cost to build a new jail with 25 beds would have been $5 million. Smith said it did not make financial sense to keep the jail open.
The cost to house each inmate per night was $951, according to the post. The sheriff’s office said it tried to offset those costs by housing inmates from surrounding counties and charging them $61 per night for each inmate. However, the fee did not lower the jail’s costs enough. With Custer County’s contract with the Fremont County Jail, inmates will be held at a cost of $120 per night.
Smith said, like the county's population, the demand for the jail was low.
"We just don't have a lot of local people that end up in jail. We average maybe three or four per day and the jail holds a total of 15 people," he said.
The Custer County Sheriff’s Office said it prioritized certain services when looking for a partnership, including medical staff on duty inside the jail and reliable vacant bed counts. The sheriff’s office said the Fremont County Jail was the only jail in a neighboring county that met all of their criteria and was the closest in mileage.
Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said he expects to see a domino effect of other small counties closing their jails.
"I think we have 15 counties that no longer have jails and are moving their arrestees and their clients around the state," he said.
Cooper said challenges still exist, like travel times to and from court hearings for Custer County inmates and family visitations.
"A lot of the people here are local. That means their family can come and visit. If you move them 80 miles away, that's going to be more difficult for the family to make visits," he said.
The seven detention deputies and one detention sergeant staffed at the jail all have plans for work, according to the post. After the jail's closure, four of the detention deputies will attend the police academy and later become staffed on patrol. Another detention deputy accepted a job as the new court security bailiff. The two remaining deputies will work half of the week to shuttle detainees to and from the Fremont County Jail to court.
The Custer County Sheriff's Office said in the future, residents may vote to build a new jail once the demand for beds is greater in the area.
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