Thursday, September 23, 2010

Detention Center Deals With Overcrowding

By John Severance

SOCORRO – Last week, the New Mexico State Police did a warrant roundup.
And it was quite successful.
But the successful roundup put quite a strain on the Socorro Detention Center and its staff.
Last Thursday on the first day of the Socorro County Fair and Rodeo, the detention center reached a new high of 92 inmates as at least 52 of them were shipped off to Cibola or McKinley County.
The capacity at the Socorro Detention Center is 55 and supervisor Evangel Maldonado said 15 beds are kept free.
“If we get over 55, someone is sleeping on the floor,” he said. “The count has been the worst ever. It has never been this bad before.”
Maldonado attributes the rise in jail population to two things.
“The economy and drugs,” he said. “Most of them can’t afford to pay their fines so they end up on warrants. They don’t get released unless they bond out or see the judge.”
On Tuesday, Maldanado said there were 62 inmates on the books.
“We are on a real small budget,” Maldonado said. “This week, there are four or five workers getting certified, which means there are six of us working 12-hour shifts this week.”
“Evangel and Tina (Padilla) do so much with so little,” county manager Delilah Walsh said. “They and their staff really do a great job.”
Walsh said because of the PILT (Payment in lieu of Taxes payment), the county had to cut $500,000 from the rest of its fiscal year budget and $68,700 of that came from the detention center.
But the county manager said of the $5 million in the general fund, $1.2 million of it goes to the detention facility.
To keep an inmate in Socorro, it costs between $65 and $70 per day per inmate.
When there is overcrowding, they ship inmates to McKinley or Cibola County at $52 per day. And that does not count transportation costs.
Walsh said after the recent warrant roundup, “some of that money will be reimbursed by the state. But they are pretty slow in paying us back.”
So what does Maldonado think will make his job easier.
“A new jail, no doubt about it,” he said.
The county had heard a presentation from Gerald Martin, an Albuquerque construction company that specializes in judicial complexes.
But right now, everything is on hold.
“We can’t even afford the $50,000 or $60,000 it costs for a feasibility study,” Walsh said. “With the budget shortfall, we had to stop planning.”
Walsh said she has done some preliminary analysis of her own in regards to a new jail.
“For a community our size, we don’t need one,” Walsh said. “The population of our county is 20,000. We could easily fill it too but does it make sense financially for the county to add more staff and care for more inmates while we are in a budget crunch? Right now, I don’t think so.”
But Walsh is not ruling it out in the long run.
“Hopefully, the economy gets better and we might go after a bond request,” Walsh said.
There is another issue with a new jail.
Do you just build a new jail or do you build a whole new judicial complex, which would include a courthouse and other things needed for the system.
“If you build just a new jail, there would be transportation costs to the courts,” Walsh said. “If you build a complex, you would have to come up with $10 million to $20 million just to get started.”
And then there are the social solutions.
“We need to figure out how do you keep people out of jail?” said Walsh, who will lead the county commissioners on a jail inspection on Sept. 22. “We need data so we can go to judges and tell them this is what we have and maybe we can come up with some kind of alternative sentencing.”
Meanwhile, Maldonado and his staff will make due with what they have.
“We have 55 lives that we are responsible for,” Maldonado said. “And also for our own.”

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