Curry County hires jail manager away from Eddy County

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

The hunt for a jail administrator who can work with prisoners on behavior modification and decrease the number of repeat offenders is over.

County Manager Dick Smith and the jail search committee say they’ve found the person for the job in Leslie Johnson, who has run the Eddy County Detention Center in Carlsbad for eight years.

Johnson, 63, a former teacher before entering law enforcement, believes teaching inmates life skills is an integral aspect of the corrections system.

She will take over March 1 as the jail administrator at the 250-bed Curry County Adult Detention Center.

“We want to prevent people from just sitting in the cell. We wanted (an administrator) who would look at programs in the jail for inmates such as education, to prevent people from coming back to jail,” he said.

Johnson, has done that in Eddy County, Smith said.

“Teaching skills are very helpful when working with inmates. These people need to learn a lot of things that they should have learned when they were eight,” Johnson said.

The county conducted a four-month search for a jail administrator following the resignation of former administrator, Don Burdine. The search ended last month after a committee decided against hiring any of the seven finalists.

The county reopened the search Jan. 13. Curry County Undersheriff and interim jail administrator Doug Bowman was among the seven original finalists but withdrew from consideration and plans to run for sheriff, he said.

Bowman sat on the search and selection committee and said hiring Johnson was an easy choice.

“Her experience was number one for us. Her availability and willingness to move to Clovis. Her knowledge of corrections was phenomenal.”

“People in Eddy County talked about how progressive she is and I think she will be a major asset to Curry County,” Bowman said.

Johnson said the inmates at the 203-bed Eddy County facility are taught skills such as anger management, parenting, and handling money, as long as they follow the rules.

The Eddy County Detention Center has 10 computers that prisoners use for instruction, she said.

Smith hopes Johnson implements these types of programs in Curry County in the near future. Smith believes the programs will eventually save money, which can be recycled into new educational programs expected to reduce recidivism.

If the jail population declined then prisoners wouldn’t have to be sent to other facilities, which costs the county $500,000 a year, Smith said.

Seventy-five to 100 prisoners per month are exported to other jails, Bowman said.

Though the overall recidivism rate in Eddy County is high, Johnson said, prisoners who underwent life skills education, didn’t come back to jail as often, she said.
Johnson has examples.

“I had one (prisoner) that I ran into coming out of H&R Block to pay his taxes. He had never made a legal dollar in his life,” she said.

The prisoner was jailed for using and selling drugs, and when in custody he received life skills education, Johnson said.

Now, “He makes a legitimate income, he goes to church, he has a girlfriend, he is a new person.”

Johnson is the first female Curry County administrator Smith said he can remember.

Smith said Johnson will receive an annual salary of $62,000, which is $12,000 more than what past administrators in the county earned, he said.

“We raised the salary in a committee meeting about one month ago,” before Johnson was hired, Smith said.

The salary is more comparable with what administrators in other counties earn, Smith said.