Kerri Johnson was furloughed from the Pitkin County Jail on Thursday amid COVID-19 concerns.
Johnson, 49, was sentenced to 90 days and 300 hours of community service last month after she pleaded guilty to class 4 felony theft for her role in her and her husband’s illicit eBay operation selling stolen winter gear from Aspen Skiing Co. SkiCo officials estimated the value of the stolen equipment at about $6 million during her sentencing hearing, including more than 10,000 pairs of skis and snowboards over more than 12 years.
The 49-day furlough is the result of a request for reconsideration of Johnson’s case, according to the court order.
“The court declines to modify the length of the jail sentence; however, the court will permit Ms. Johnson to serve the jail nonconsecutively such that she can be released today and report back to jail at a future date,” it states, noting that the decision is consistent with efforts to “manage the population of the jail in light of the public health crisis.”
Johnson returned to her Aspen home with her children on Thursday. The furlough will not undermine her eligibility for good-behavior credit.
Acknowledging that following social-distancing guidelines during a pandemic is particularly difficult in a jail, Pitkin County District Court decisions have leaned toward keeping the incarcerated population as low as possible. Both Judge Chris Seldin and Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham on Monday agreed that lower or personal-recognizance bonds, which require no cash, were appropriate for a number of low-risk defendants to that end.
The 10 current inmates have already seen a change to their daily routines, as jail staff has suspended many in-person programs, from volunteering to Mind Springs Health counseling — although Mind Springs’ services will be returning in a remote capacity, Jail Commander Kim Vallario said.
“This is where it becomes really tough. We like to and we try to provide as many programs as we can. Now, with COVID-19, we’ve shut down our volunteers coming in and our programs, so we really are trying to be creative and come up with anything we can to provide those resources and those programs. We spoke with Mind Springs ... we’re doing it with an iPad on Zoom and that type of thing,” she said, noting that one-on-one in-person counseling continues.
Jackie Skramstad, Mind Springs clinical operations manager, said Tuesday that the organization was shifting to virtual platforms as a whole beginning that day.
“It is a work in progress, but we really want to make sure that we are continuing to serve the needs of the community,” she said. “The great thing is that a lot of people have smartphones, so Zoom is a platform you can use on your smartphone if you’ve got enough Wi-Fi bandwidth. We do have the telephone option, so even if we can’t visibly see people, at the very least, we’ll be able to talk to those people and maintain those connections, because that’s super important right now. Most of our people have phones.”
Jail inmates, of course, do not have phones — but Skramstad was confident that televideo conferencing would serve that population well, too.
“We do provide jail-based mental health service regularly in the jail; there’s some state dollars and a partnership with behavioral health. When the COVID-19 outbreak happened, the jail of course was trying to protect their inmates and staff because it is such a closely contained environment that they asked us not to come to the jail,” she said. “So what we’re doing is what we’re doing with everybody else. Our staff are all equipped with laptops, phones, the equipment to be working remotely from their homes and then beam in to wherever they need to: a client’s home, the jail. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Like so many other entities that have been impacted by COVID-19 mitigation efforts, Skramstad said Mind Springs will be closely monitoring the public health situation as it evolves, but she’s anticipating the agency offering virtual services until at least the end of the month.
“We will be reassessing regularly,” she said. “We certainly want to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible; I think that helps our clients feel safe when we can get back to routine, but we will just keep an eye on this evolving situation.”
Vallario and her staff also are keeping a close eye on the situation and striving for creative programming solutions in the meantime, she said.
“I think the other day they ordered them barbecue and rented them a movie,” she said. “ We’ve implemented a video visitation. It’s a FaceTime type of thing, so they can sit there and visit with their family members from wherever. While there are some anxieties for the inmates because of their loved ones outside maybe dealing with what’s going on, at least they can still visit with them, see them, even though it’s through a screen. They’re incarcerated, so it’s already a difficult time for them.”
Barbecue and movie nights, video visitation and virtual mental health services serve a bigger picture toward maintaining both security and compassion at the facility, Vallario explained.
“There’s several facets of this,” she said. “It’s been shown: you lock people in a cell for 23 hours in a day, they go crazy — and then our world is less safe. My deputies’ world becomes less safe,” she said.
It’s also a matter of inmate safety, she continued, as well as one of philosophy.
“I know there are victims of some of these guys’ crimes. But also, these people do have family members and friends that care about them, and maybe they made some bad decisions, but everybody has a right to redeem themselves,” she said. “And it really isn’t our role to punish them; it’s our role to help them get through the system.”