By Pam Zubeck
El Paso County plans to spend more than $13 million of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation on improvements to the Criminal Justice Center.
The $1.1 trillion bill, adopted by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump March 27, contained extra money for those thrown out of work due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as money for states and counties.
El Paso County snagged $127.5 million and shared it with cities and towns in the county while keeping $84.4 million.
Prisons and jails have proven to be hot spots for the virus across the country, although that hasn’t been the case here. An El Paso County Jail deputy died of COVID-19 on April 1 and three other jail deputies have tested positive, but no inmates have tested positive, Sheriff’s spokesperson Deb Mynatt says. Five deputies assigned to other areas also have tested positive.
On June 16, the Sheriff’s Office announced how it has allocated $13,585,940, which must be spent by year’s end.
• $600,000 — replace property conveyor in the El Paso County Jail. This is an apparatus that resembles a dry-cleaner carousel where inmates personal belongings are stored in close quarters. Mynatt says in an email that physical distancing required between these items mandates creating a more roomy situation to avoid cross-contamination. The remedy is to seal property in airtight bags and create a system allowing for more space.
• $4,686,440 — jail security cameras and door control upgrades
• $1,850,000 — jail facility door lock replacement
• $2,200,000 — jail lobby and locker remodel
• $950,000 — sheriff’s training facility remodel
• $300,000 — upgrade equipment to improve sanitation and hygiene
• $250,000 — telemedicine equipment procurement
• $250,000 — visitation booth remodel for privacy and security during professional visits
• $1,161,000 — hazardous duty pay ($200 per pay period, which is twice a month)
• $500,000 — office cubicle update and safety improvements
• $200,000 — overtime pay to bring services back to expected levels
• $125,000 — redeployment of school resource officers
• $487,500 — redeployment of work release deputies
• $26,000 — video court expenditures
Mynatt explains these expenditures this way:
In order for us to be in compliance with COVID-19 [regulations], we locked down the jail and due to this we needed additional security, deputies assigned to Work Release were pulled from the Tejon [Street] location to the jail to assist. We also lost income due to the elimination of the [Work Release] program. This program will remain eliminated into the foreseeable future because of COVID-19.
[Overtime] was used due to the need for additional security to remain in compliance with COVID-19.
Because of COVID-19 the 60 different schools that we have placed School Resource Officers all requested for a refund of contract money. This would pay back those costs associated with the early cancellation of those paid contracts.
Other allocations by the county haven’t been explicitly outlined, but a portion of the money has been assigned to El Paso County Public Health to hire personnel, to include contact tracers.