Women’s unit concerned about overcrowding at jail

CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks
Detention Officer Richard Glaucoe of Clovis waits for entry to the Adult Detention Center Thursday afternoon. Inmates say overcrowding is causing many problems at the facility.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Overcrowding in the women’s unit at the Curry County jail has led to supply shortages, but jail administrator Leslie Johnson said she is working to correct the issues.

Female inmates at the 13-year-old Curry County Detention Center have a litany of complaints about the facility. A lack of linens, overcrowding, poisonous spiders, unnecessary delays in their cases, a lack of prenatal care and difficulty getting medical treatment are but some of the issues jail officials hear.

A mattress shortage has been rectified, according to Johnson. Alternative bedding the facility provided the women was marginally acceptable, she said, but ordering replacement mattresses and linens takes time.

Mattresses are destroyed by inmates, Johnson said. Often they pull the stuffing out and use it as a bartering tool. More dominant personalities will sometimes use the ill-gotten fluff to embellish their own mattresses, she said.

The result is a reduced mattress inventory that can’t compete with an increasing influx of inmates.

“We can’t put out a ‘no vacancy’ sign, which would be wonderful,” she said. “They keep bringing them in, and we have to house them.”

Linens wear out or are abused by inmates and have to be resupplied, Johnson said.

Inmate Faye Miller, incarcerated for failing to appear at a hearing on DWI charges, has been at the jail for almost a month while she waits for her case to be heard.

“This place isn’t fit for a dog,” she said. “They’ve got women on the floor with no sheets or anything. It’s very inhumane,” Miller said.

Inmate Andrea Garcia said she was surprised when she arrived at the jail and was given a segment of a wool blanket to use as a towel, a small, hole-ridden blanket to cover with and a piece of foam for bedding.

There aren’t enough mattresses for everyone, Garcia said, and the ones they do have are torn up. Most of the women sleep on the floor, some taking turns with the mattresses, she said.

When women ask detention officers for feminine hygiene products, they are often left waiting all day before receiving them, Garcia said. Women try to hold on to the products to be prepared when they need them, but officers look for them and take them away, she said.

“I know jail is not supposed to be a Holiday Inn, but we’re not supposed to be treated like this,” she said by phone.

Drying off with wool after bathing is less than ideal and would indeed be itchy, Johnson said. Initially she said she was unaware the facility had run out of towels.

Johnson said officers were giving inmates whatever they could find on hand to meet their needs.

“(Officers) were tearing up whatever there was. I think the officers were just trying to make do with what they had — they were very low on supplies,” she said.

“We are dealing with it. We were buying what we had to buy to get us through our fiscal year. We have purchased and we are still purchasing. It’s very difficult to keep ahead — inmates destroy things,” she said.

When it comes to sanitary napkins, Johnson said the issue is tricky.

While inmates clearly need to have them, they are often used to hide contraband. “I hope it doesn’t take all day (for them to get them). There’s females that use pads to hide things. (Sometimes) officers have to go through them whether they’re dirty or clean, (but) I don’t know that a staff member would deliberately withhold them,” she said.

At any given time about 90 percent of the inmates at the jail are in pre-trial status, Johnson said.

The jail is able to accommodate 32 females at a time and excess prisoners are taken to neighboring locales while they await court dates, Johnson said.

There are more than 65 female inmates facing charges in Clovis in other facilities, Johnson said.

Two weeks ago, Garcia was sent to Muleshoe because of the overcrowding, and said she missed a hearing in Clovis because she was never transported back. The delays mean more time in custody and more time until her case is heard.

Transporting inmates back and forth for court dates is an ordeal, Johnson said. When there is not enough notice, it may not be possible to get an inmate back for a hearing.

As of Thursday the female population was at 25 and there were beds for everyone, Johnson said, although the numbers fluctuate regularly, tending toward overcrowding.

The facility makes every effort to be sure the inmates are cared for, Johnson said. Two nurse practitioners and a doctor come in to see inmates. Inmates are charged a $10 co-pay for services and medicine but no one is denied care, she said.

Curry County Manager Dick Smith said many of the inmates’ concerns are a result of increasing inmate populations.

“Warden Johnson is on the front lines. I have tremendous faith in her. She inherited problems, and she’s rapidly correcting them,” he said.

The issue of jail overcrowding and moreover the exponential increase in female inmates is a growing problem faced nationwide and felt locally, according to Smith.

The county is actively looking at more holistic policies to curb the overwhelming problem, Smith said. Education, drug counseling and finding alternatives to incarceration are ideas being considered.

“That facility was never designed for the population we have. … It’s a huge issue for the county and for taxpayers.

“The growing pains are just tremendous,” Smith said.

Garcia said she wants to see change for herself and other inmates.

“We did wrong. We’re inmates but treat us with respect and give us what we need,” she said.