Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NM counties ask for help in operating jails

The Metropolitan Detention Center. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In light of “crisis levels of understaffing” at jails across the state, general counsel for the New Mexico Counties organization raised concerns that counties – which run the facilities – are footing the majority of the costs without much assistance from city and state governments.

“Money’s tight – a big portion of the county money is going to jails, a very small portion of municipal funds are going to jails – so there’s the financial issue,” said attorney Grace Philips, speaking before the Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee on Wednesday. “But I would suggest to you – because I know this is a committee that cares about policy – ​​that there’s also policy implications. … I think you need skin in the game for policy reasons and you need skin in the game, just because it’s a resource that you’re using.”

Out of 26 jails statewide five had more than 50% vacancy rates among correctional officers, as of August.

A recent analysis found about 28% of general funds from counties statewide are going toward detention facilities, Philips said, although smaller counties are putting a greater percentage toward the facilities.

Of the $282.5 million spent on running jails statewide in Fiscal Year 2022, 90% was from county governments. Of the remainder, $2.3 million was from the state, $3 million was from city governments and $20 million was from federal per diems for housing inmates.

Phillips said in most counties municipal police departments arrest at least 50% of the people held in jails, but contribute far less to the operational costs.

In Bernalillo County, the Albuquerque Police Department arrests 58% of the people in the jail, but city funds do not pay for operational costs.

Earlier this year as the Metropolitan Detention Center’s security staffing continued to decrease – leading to an increase in deaths and other critical incidents – the County Commission raised the idea of ​​exploring a new governance structure that would incorporate the city.

Danielle Silva, a city spokeswoman, said there have not been any conversations about this. She pointed out that the city had previously operated the jail but turned it over to the county at its request in 2006.

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“The Albuquerque community does currently financially support the operations of the jail through the taxes that Albuquerque residents pay to the county, as they are Bernalillo County residents, too,” Silva wrote in a statement.

The state is supposed to reimburse counties for the cost of holding parole violators and people who are sentenced to prison but awaiting transport. However, Philips said, that money “has been whittled away” and little appears to be getting to the jails.

“We certainly feel that the state should be paying full fare for what you’re legally obligated to pay,” she said.

Philips presented strategies stakeholders could take to address jail issues, including courts being judicious in who they’re holding, law enforcement considering whether to arrest or cite someone, and attorneys on both sides managing cases efficiently as well as growing the workforce pool through “return to work” programs.

Lawmakers said they didn’t have any specific plans for legislation to address jails. But several questioned whether all the people who were locked up needed to be or if there were other alternatives.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, brought up recent deaths in the Metropolitan Detention Center and other jails that are understaffed.

“We can pass more and more laws to make more and more crimes but what good is that if we don’t have a facility to jail people, and we don’t have the staff to manage it …,” Cervantes said. “There’s nobody there to manage the jail and to take care of people that are in there. So why are we surprised with more suicides? Why are we surprised that crime is exploding? We’re not getting our arms around it. We’re not making progress with it.”

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