Detention center budget focus of commission meeting

By Marlena Hartz : CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Adult Detention Center’s continued financial drain on the county budget once again dominated discussions at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

According to Curry County Manager Dick Smith, 65 to 75 percent of the county’s budget is already being poured into the detention system because of continued jail overcrowding.

Part of the problem could be that Curry County detains its inmates longer than other state facilities, indicated a New Mexico Sentencing Commission study released in last month.

Among six detention facilities studied, Curry County’s topped the list with its median length of stay at 196 days although number of arrests in Curry County remains comparable and even lower than that of other counties.

Curry County’s current arrest and detention policies may be to blame, the report indicates.

Don Burdine, administrator at Curry County’s Adult Detention Center, said that he and his staff have little control over how long an inmate spends behind bars.

“Judges set bails and bonds — the two items that establish length of stay,” Burdine said. Burdine said mandatory arrests have also contributed to jail overcrowding.

“Officers can now be criminally charged for not arresting people for offenses, like domestic violence, that once would have been handled through fines and fees,” Burdine said.
A partial solution — in the form of a device no larger than a calculator — may loom on the horizon.

The commission unanimously passed a motion Tuesday to negotiate a contract with a company that will provide the detention center with devices to monitor the whereabouts and activities of non-violent offenders outside the facility.

Eligible offenders will be released on the stipulation they wear the tracking devices around their ankles. Participants may continue employment, attend classes, community service and maintain family life while serving their sentence, according to the proposal.

CEO of Sure Trac, Rebecca Duffield, is optimistic when it comes to the new project.

“This takes the burden off the county,” Duffield said. “Low base offenders will now be able to work and provide for their families, and the county will be freed from housing expenses. It is very economical — if the county kept a minimum of 20 people on it, they would save $750 dollars a day. It’s really no different than house arrest except we can monitor an individual 24-7, so detention officers don’t have to physically check where someone is.”

Sure Trac recently provided 1,600 units to one California detention center. The new technology has already altered the face of corrections in that state said Duffield, who views California as a “test model” for New Mexico.

“We have an opportunity to better manage the jail population than we did in the past,” said Smith, another proponent of the tracking system.