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Changes increase security at jail

In the wake of the July 20 escape of two inmates from the Archuleta County Detention Center, the subsequent investigation and observations by the sheriff, additional operations policies and procedures are being implemented at the facility.

Other, existing policies are becoming more strict and further defined.

“The investigation showed there are certain things that needed to be done,” said Sheriff Pete Gonzalez.

A two-page memo of changes from Gonzalez will be presented to detention officers Friday and implemented immediately.

Among the changes, no unauthorized personnel will be allowed into the facility.

The control room doors will remain closed and locked at all times. Any access to the room by unauthorized personnel or by an inmate for cleaning will be under the direct supervision of a detention officer other than the control room officer.

Special programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, will be conducted during the day, when additional officers and the special services team are on duty to provide security.

“Visits for religious counseling shall be on a one-to-one basis and granted only to ordained ministers. Detention officers shall search the visiting room for contraband upon the conclusion of these meetings. Inmates shall also be searched for contraband prior to being allowed to return to their cells,” the memo states.

In order to lessen the number of inmates in the corridors at any given time, inmates will be released no more than two at a time to attend special program meetings or to return to their cells.

Handcuffs will be provided to all detention officers for on-duty use.

Staff members are also not allowed to bring personal weapons into the facility. Personal items (such as car keys and cell phones) will be secured in the control room prior to the start of an officer’s shift.

Keys to the facility will be securely stored in the control room and the shift supervisor will be responsible for accounting for the keys at the beginning and ending of his or her shift.

Detention officers will ensure that cell doors are completely shut, with no items wedged or placed on the hinges to prevent the door from closing completely.

Cell checks will be conducted regularly without notice and on different days — at the minimum on a weekly basis for security, contraband and cleanliness. Inmates will be removed from a cell prior to the search.

While many of the changes affect all inmates in the ACDC, some inmates will face even more changes.

“We will now have a category of high-risk inmates,” Gonzalez said, and that category will include those inmates sentenced to the Department of Corrections and awaiting transfer, inmates arrested on felony charges who face DOC time if convicted, inmates incarcerated on assault charges, suicidal inmates and those otherwise deemed by jail management to be high risk.

High-risk inmates will be handcuffed and placed in leg irons and searched before leaving their cells and after returning. Leg irons will not be removed when the inmate is out of the cell, however, handcuffs will be removed during visitations, Gonzalez said.

In addition to the inmates and staff, visitors to the facility are affected and will now face a slightly longer process, as they will now be subject to the process of the magnetometer, new to the entrance at the jail near the sheriff’s office. Following use of the visitation rooms, searches for contraband left in th rooms will be performed.

In the event of a critical incident, detention staff will notify the dispatch center immediately to clearly inform dispatchers of the incident.

Expanding beyond the immediate jail facility, the garage doors at the sally port on the ground level at the back of the detention center are to remain closed other than to allow the entry and exit of authorized vehicles.

Not listed in the memo, but further detailed by Gonzalez, is the fact that two deputies will transport inmates to Durango for court hearings, versus the one that was previously used if scheduling affected the use of two officers.

The memo concludes with a statement that changes were not made to assign blame, but to increase security.

“It’s to ensure the safety of the detention officers, the inmates and, more importantly, to let the community know these steps are being taken so they can feel secure,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “Another escape is unlikely to occur.”

randi@pagosasun.com