Escape prompts jail policy changes

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff

Officials are revising jail protocol and policy after an inmate escaped last month and it took two days before law enforcement was notified, said Curry County Manager Dick Smith.

The Dec. 23 escape from Curry County Adult Detention Center prompted a two-fold administrative and criminal investigation by officials and area law enforcement.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said he has received and is reviewing reports from his investigators and the Curry County Sheriff’s office. Upon the conclusion of his review, he will determine if criminal charges will be filed.

He declined to identify who might fall under the scope of the criminal investigation.

“There is no real distinction between staff and the inmates. If a crime has been committed, it becomes the duty of our office to file a charge. I hope to have all the reports finalized by Monday,” he said.

The administrative investigation was completed last week and has uncovered faults ranging from breakdowns in staff communication, staff training issues, lax observance of procedure and equipment problems among other issues, Smith said.

As personnel issues are resolved in coming weeks, Smith said more in-depth information regarding changes could be explained publicly.

“We do have a good plan already implemented. Some of it involves working through personnel issues — all of it ties together,” he said.

Smith said he couldn’t discuss disciplinary actions administrators may take, as those matters are ongoing and involve legal, confidential personnel issues, he said.

“There were some problems with communication between shifts and officers. We are aware of that — we’re not trying to hide that. Some people messed up and somebody escaped. We are absolutely responsible for that,” Smith said.

“I do think it’s fair for the community to know what (corrective) actions are being taken. Some of those actions are going on right now.”

Guadalupe Rodriguez, 29, was helping out in the kitchen at the time of his escape.
Staff did not notice his absence until mid-day Christmas day and it was not reported to area law enforcement until evening, records show.

Rodriguez was captured without incident Dec. 28 in Dimmitt, Texas.

Smith was recovering from an illness that had him hospitalized during that period, but said he has been brought up to speed on the developments and has been closely involved in the process since his return to work last week.

At the core of the matter are some fundamental problems Smith said have plagued the jail for some time. He cited a lack of resources to train staff, high employee turnover rates and overcrowding as intrinsic problems facing the jail.

“We have an old facility that was never designed for this many prisoners,” Smith said. “We have never been up to staff and have not been able to hire officers. This is a huge problem.

“I think we’re going to have to look at salaries and training. We’ve been trying to get a detention officer training center started (in the state for more than seven years). Our goal has been to have a well-trained, professional staff,” he said.

The facility was designed in the early 1990s to accommodate approximately 130 inmates with a maximum safety load of 175, he said. An average of more than 200 prisoners push the facility beyond its capacity and burden a staff that’s smaller than officials would like.

“I think our warden and our management staff has done a wonderful job with what they have to work with but I think there are some systematic things involved — I think we’ve done a great job with what we have to work with.”