COVID Puts Strain on County Detention Center

Deputy Jordon Potter monitors the CCSO Detention Center Booking Area, where inmates are initially taken when admitted to the detention center

Coronavirus-related restrictions in state penitentiary facilities have slowed the intake of prisoners, resulting in a higher jail population that could further strain the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), officials say.

Approximately 30 prisoners in the Campbell County Detention Center currently await transfer to one of the five Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC) facilities throughout the state, with several of the inmates waiting for a month or longer.

It’s the most – and the longest – that the county jail has housed WDOC-bound prisoners in recent years, CCSO Captain Kevin Theis said Tuesday.

With the number of WDOC-bound prisoners climbing from around two dozen earlier this week, the amount of available cells with appropriate security measures are in scarcity. Typically, prisoners who are heading for state facilities are designated as maximum security, depending on the nature of their crimes, Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said Wednesday.

Deputy Brad Blavert observes prisoners in medium and maximum security cell blocks. He’s worked in the CCSO Detention Center for four years.

“We only have so many maximum-security cells,” Reynolds said, adding that COVID-19 restrictions in the county detention center have made the double bunking of prisoners impossible, which is the only way the jail can reach maximum capacity of 306 prisoners between maximum and medium security cell blocks.

As things stand, Reynolds said the number of prisoners remain manageable if they don’t climb above the 200’s.

Maximum Security prisoners housed in the CCSO Detention Center

As of Nov. 3, there are currently 179 prisoners in the detention center. Of those 30 WDOC-bound prisoners, 22 of them require maximum security supervision, leaving CCSO with only five to 10 cells available in maximum security with no idea when WDOC will arrive for pickup, Reynolds noted.

More than two months have passed since the last pickup from WDOC, according to Theis, a delay that can be attributed to the latest COVID-19 numbers, showing state facilities locked in a battle with 64 active, lab-confirmed cases throughout Wyoming’s correctional facilities as the virus spreads. This is despite the numerous restrictions implemented by WDOC earlier this year that included mask wearing, no in-person visits and more thorough hand-washing guidelines.

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Now, those restrictions include a reduction in the number of incoming prisoners, according to Theis and Deputy Administrator Paul Martin of the WDOC Transparency Division.

Under normal conditions, prisoners are sent to initial intake facilities. Male prisoners are sent to the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute in Torrington while female prisoners go to the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk. At each facility, the prisoners are observed to determine which of the five state facilities for which they are best suited.

Now, however, with COVID-19 present in prison populations, WDOC has implemented a quarantine process that could last for weeks. If any prisoner test positive for COVID-19, then the quarantine process starts all over again.

“It’s kind of slowed up the train,” Theis said. The reduction in the number of incoming prisoners to WDOC means the CCSO must pick up the tab for prisoners who should be moving on to state facilities.

It’s not cheap. On average, CCSO might spend up to $140 per day providing food and medical care to inmates. A portion of that cost for WDOC-bound prisoners is recouped slightly, thanks to Wyoming Statute 7-13-103, which gives the state 10 days to pick up their prisoners, after which the county jails can begin charging them.

Currently, CCSO charges $65 a day for WDOC-bound prisoners. For the two dozen prisoners who should be in WDOC custody, this means that CCSO is fronting more than $50,000 each month, while searching for ways to contend with a mid-November request that county departments reduce their budgets by 15 – 25%.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny said Wednesday, adding that CCSO is looking for ways to reduce their budget as requested, which could include reducing training, equipment and possibly taking a hit to benefit packages.

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He said that as essential employees during this time of uncertainty, CCSO would most likely not be looking at a reduction in force, though any position that is voluntarily vacated will likely not be filled immediately until some point in the future.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to keep all of our people here,” Matheny said.

Theis, however, is less sure that CCSO can withstand the sort of budget cuts the county wants without affecting staff.

“But we’re essential,” he added. “We need our staff to maintain this population of inmates. We couldn’t go too far into reducing staff numbers without shutting down parts of the jail to reduce their population capabilities.”

So far, CCSO has been able to cover the costs of housing WDOC- bound prisoners while remaining within their existing budget, but that’s only while jail populations remained low during the spring and summer months this year, Theis noted.

Now at the end of the year, the population in the jail is climbing steadily as more arrests are made, Theis said.

“That does increase our daily operational costs and man hours,” he said, adding that the jail could start feeling the financial constraints for housing WDOC-bound prisoners with more people and mouths to feed.