The Teller Jailhouse Blues

The controversy over the jail in Divide has featured plenty of drama over the last two decades. Here are some of the main highlights along the Teller jail front.

*In the early 1990s, Teller County officials were told by federal authorities they would have to shut down a small historic jail in Cripple Creek, constructed around the time of the gold rush. As a result, Teller officials began studying plans for a future jail facility and accepted proposals from the cities of Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and even Divide community leaders. After a series of high profile meetings, the Teller County commissioners favored a plan to build an elaborate justice center and jail in Woodland Park. But this option required a local vote, according to the stipulations of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights law.

*The jail in Cripple Creek was shut down in 1992, following an emotional ceremony.

*After Teller voters denied a plan for a plan to incur debt and to finance a justice center and jail in Woodland Park, the county contracted out with El Paso County to house there prisoners in Colorado Springs. This created many problems with transportation costs and the county explored the option of financing a jail without any type of public vote through a mechanism known as Certificate of Participation bond monies, which set up lease payments with a non-profit entity. Proponents of the plan opted for a 100-plus-bed facility due to the shortage of prison facilities at the time. Under this plan, the facility would house Teller and state inmates, along with prisoners from other counties.

*A site is approved for a new jail on property owned by Pete Kuyper and the new facility opens for business in the fall of 1995 by a private contractor. Former Sheriff Kevin Dougherty is hired as the first manager of the facility.

*The original Pennsylvania-based private contractor sells out to CiviGenics, one of the larger prison companies in the nation. This arrangement, though, leads to many questions about a decline in service. A series of serious incidents occur in 1999, capped by the successful escape of a dangerous inmate accused of murder. The inmate walks out of the facility and climbs a fence, but then collapses from an asthma attack.

*Sheriff Frank Fehn cancels the contract with CiviGenics and decides to have the sheriff’s agency operate the facility.

*The Teller jail gains national attention during the capture of the Texas Seven in January, 2001. Four members of the famous fugitive gang are housed there for several weeks. The jail is even profiled on Sixty Minutes.

*The jail incurs a growing deficit, leading to financial struggles for the county. This trend reaches a peak when the Colorado Department of Corrections, which housed many inmates at the facility on a daily basis, cancels a contract with Teller County. Instead, the state chooses to house prisoners outside of Colorado. In addition, a boom in new jail construction hampers the Divide facility’s ability to house inmates from other counties.

*Tensions mount between the Teller County commissioners and former Sheriff Kevin Dougherty over the financial situation at the jail in late 2007 and early 2008.

*The jail experiences a short financial boom, but then hits hard times again with the construction of a 1,000-plus-bed facility outside Denver.

*The campaign for sheriff in 2010 highlights the fiscal problems at the jail. Newly-elected Sheriff Mike Ensminger unveils a big campaign to court more federal inmates and establish better relations with the commissioners.