(CUSTER COUNTY, Colo.) — The Custer County Jail will close on Friday, Jan. 6, following a unanimous vote by Custer County Commissioners.

On Dec. 29, Custer County Commissioners also voted to approve an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with the Fremont County Jail to begin housing Custer County inmates and detainees.

The Custer County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) required a partnering jail with medical staff on duty and reliable vacant bed counts to house the average daily prisoner total in the county. The only jail in a neighboring county that met both criteria was the Fremont County Jail, which was also the closest jail in mileage, according to CCSO.

CCSO said the decision to close the county jail was made due to the following concerns:

Current condition and design of the jail

The current condition of the jail does not meet safety requirements, stated the Sheriff’s Office. For 2023, CCSO would need to make expensive upgrades in air handling systems, body scanners to detect contraband and booking room construction to prevent inmate harm.

In December 2022, CCSO estimated the cheapest cost to build a stand-alone jail with 25 beds at $5 million. An engineering firm that designs jails and prisons recommended the Sheriff’s Office wait and design a jail until after new legislation is passed in the summer of 2023.

“At some point in the future, Custer County residents might decide to build a new jail when the demand for jail beds is greater in our community,” said CCSO.

Cost per day of housing an inmate & detainee

The cost to run the Custer County Jail was projected to increase to $1 million in 2023, said CCSO. Of that total, 68% would go to salaries, overtime, fringe benefits and professional services.

For 2022, CCSO said it housed inmates and detainees for a total of 1,051 nights. The cost of housing for each inmate would be $951. To offset this cost, CCSO allowed surrounding counties to house their inmates and detainees with the Custer County Jail, per CCSO.

By adding inmates from other counties, the Custer County Jail housed inmates for a total of 2,173 nights. This allowed CCSO to lower the cost of housing per night to $460.

The Custer County Jail along with other county jails charge $61 a night per inmate. This fee was originally based on the reimbursement fee paid by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) to county jails. However, the $61 did not allow CCSO to recoup the actual costs to house inmates and detainees.

A new contract with Fremont County will charge CCSO $120 per night.

Anticipated unfunded mandates expected to be adopted by the legislature

In 2022, a salary survey of law enforcement officers found that Custer County deputies were the lowest paid. Starting deputies were paid $19.38 an hour while detention deputies received $17.85 an hour.

As such, Custer County Commissioners voted to increase pay for deputies.

“We believe that increasing the pay was an important first step to retaining staff and would ultimately save money by reducing turnover and the cost of sending applicants to a six-month police academy,” said CCSO.

The new starting pay for deputies is $25 an hour and will go into effect starting Jan. 16. Additionally, CCSO implemented a bigger step system for deputies to receive an additional $1 for every year they earn a successful rating on a performance appraisal.

Starting pay for sergeants will increase from $26.52 an hour to $31 an hour with the same-step system.

We are grateful to our loyal and hard-working detention staff. They have faithfully served the citizens of Custer County by operating the jail. Without their hard work, we could not have kept the jail open and in compliance with ever-changing regulations. We both agree along with all three commissioners that the decision to close the jail was the best decision, right now, for the county both in terms of prudently utilizing taxpayer funds and providing safe housing and reliable medical services to our inmates and detainees.

Custer County Sheriff’s Office