Jail overcrowding dangerous for deputies, jail staff

Published: Feb. 13, 2019 at 9:15 PM MST
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It's no secret that the Mesa County Jail is overcrowded. There are just over 500 inmates in the jail right now, but it was originally designed to only hold less than 400.

"We've been seeing overcrowding issues since before we were built," Amanda Erkman, a deputy in the jail, said.

We've also shared with you that crowded conditions were a concern for many inmates and their families, but it's unsafe for the deputies too.

"People get a lot more irritated and are a lot quicker to resort to violent acts," Erkman said. "You're always watching your back."

Part of the issue is that you have inmates who are already irritated in close quarters with others. The other issue is that because the jail is so full, they only have room for the folks who have committed more serious crimes.

"We had to change those (arrest standards) based on the size of the jail and what we could hold," Erkman said. "We don't take misdemeanor cases anymore unless it's a warrant."

In 2018, 13 deputies were assaulted in the jail, 10 the year before that. Assault could constitute anything from being punched, kicked or spit on.

"I had an inmate come out of a door swinging at me once, and punched me in the face," Erkman said.

That's why deputies are hoping the planned expansion at the Mesa County Jail comes to fruition.

"It's always been growing, it always will grow, so we back here are extremely excited that we're getting the opportunity to look into, and hopefully, get some new pods that are going to give the inmates a little more space," Erkman said.

We have previously reported that the Sheriff's Office is working on that expansion to add 160 beds and a medical and mental health facility to the jail. The estimated price tag is around $20 million. No word yet on how they plan to pay for it just yet.

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