Though Gov. Jared Polis issued guidance for detention centers across the state in dealing with the ongoing emergence of COVID-19, Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor said his jail already has guidelines in place for the situation — and they’re more stringent than what the governor laid out.


"I applaud the governor for putting out guidelines, but I can tell you that the County Sheriffs of Colorado have put out guidelines before that that are more strict than what the governor put out," Taylor said Wednesday. "We’re doing everything we can within our facility."


One of Polis’ guidelines for detention centers across the state is to encourage the courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to work to evaluate the populations at their facilities and determine how to reduce the number of individuals in custody without creating a public safety threat by assessing risk and setting personal recognizance bonds as much as possible.


Taylor said that is something that has already been accomplished at the Pueblo County jail in the past two weeks.


He said the local court officials, district attorney and public defender got together and were able to get a significant amount of people in the jail out on bond.


Taylor said the jail population has gone down from 646 to 511 in two weeks because of those decisions, which has enabled the jail to comply better with social distancing measures and other precautions laid out in Polis’ guidelines.


The average daily population at the jail has been around 742 in recent times, and there was a time in 2018 where the jail population peaked at over 800, Taylor said — so the reduction is significant.


"Any time we can decrease that population back to either capacity or under capacity, that opens up more areas within the jail and we can do these positive, proactive things with our inmates," Taylor said.


So far, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the Pueblo jail.


Saying that his office is aware of the effect of COVID-19 on detention centers, on Wednesday morning Polis issued guidance to those centers across the state as part of Colorado’s continued efforts to prevent the spread and impacts of novel coronavirus while also protecting public safety.


In addition to encouraging lessening of detention center populations, the guidance includes ensuring all individuals being in custody in a detention center are held in a manner that allows social distancing whenever practicable.


Polis also said that in addition to social distancing measures, detention centers should take all reasonable steps to ensure that not more than 10 individuals are gathered at the same time in any confined indoor or outdoor space.


Polis also said detention centers need to develop and announce a plan to disinfect and regularly sanitize all facilities; ensure each new intake to and release from all jails as well as all staff, contractors and visitors are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and receives a temperature check among other measures; and ensures that inmates who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms are isolated from the general population as facility design and safety permits, and are provided with necessary health care.


Detention centers across the state have already enacted an agreement that suspends transferring inmates to other detention centers, Taylor said. For example, an inmate being housed at the Pueblo County jail who is meant to be transferred to Jefferson County won’t be transferred at this time, and vice-versa. That was another guideline Polis issued.


Polis also is asking detention centers to temporarily suspend all visitation to detention centers, including family visits and volunteer visits, except for those providing legal representation. Regarding legal representation, all detention centers are ordered to increase the availability of confidential phone or video calls to reduce the number of in-person visits.


rseverance@chieftain.com


Twitter: @RyanSevvy