Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall has tightened policies allowing prisoners at Routt County Jail to get time shaved off their sentences for good behavior.
The new policies will result in more days served for many prisoners. The county unknowingly had been out of compliance with state statutes regulating good time for years, Wall said Wednesday.
"Routt County was the most liberal with good time of any county in the state, it seems," he said.
According to state statute, prisoners are allowed to have two days a month deducted from their sentence in return for good behavior. Trusty prisoners, who work inside or outside the jail, can be given an additional 10 days per month off their sentence.
Wall said for as long as anyone currently employed by the Routt County Sheriff's Office can remember, prisoners at the Routt County Jail have been given all 12 days regardless of their status - trusty or not.
"We speculate it started at the old jail at the old courthouse, where we only had 12 beds," Wall said. "I inherited it and didn't really think about what we were doing, and no one questioned it."
Earlier this month, when Wall learned the Routt County Jail's "good time policy" was not in compliance with state statute, the policy was adjusted immediately. The changes went into effect April 11.
"I felt like I didn't have any choice - to continue it would have been a violation of state statute. To grandfather people in, that would've been a violation of state statute," Wall said.
The sudden change in the policy has drawn the ire of some prisoners. Wall said he has received angry calls from some local defense attorneys.
"There were people here, and there still are people here, who were under the expectation that they would automatically get their 12 days," Wall said. "For some people, it became a very frustrating situation because they were expecting something we're now not able to give them.
"This is not, from my perspective, a punishment - it's just compliance," he said.
A prisoner serving a six-month sentence could have expected to serve as little as four and a half months under the old good time policy, not accounting for time served prior to sentencing. Under the new policy, prisoners not on trusty status would have less than two weeks shaved off the same sentence.
The Moffat County Jail has long been in compliance with the state statutes regarding the good behavior, Moffat County Jail administrator Lt. Dean Herndon said. Everyone sentenced to 30 days or more is entitled to two days off a month for good behavior, and trusty prisoners sentenced to 60 days or more can get the additional 10 days.
While many current and future prisoners will serve more days as a result of the change, the Routt County Jail is not in immediate danger of overcrowding. The jail has been averaging between 30 and 45 prisoners on a given night, Wall said.
Officially, the Routt County Jail has 52 beds, though it has been able to accommodate additional inmates when necessary by bringing in additional mattresses, Wall said. During the 2006 gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a counterculture festival that brought more than 15,000 people to North Routt County in June and July of that year, the jail housed close to 70 prisoners, Wall said. Plans are being drawn up to change sleeping arrangements at the Routt County Jail to bring its permanent capacity up to about 75 inmates, he said.
The jail typically has four or five trusty prisoners at any time who work in the jail's kitchen or laundry facility. The jail also is working on developing a formula to grant partial-trusty status to prisoners who spend some of their time doing highway cleanup or washing county vehicles, Wall said.
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