Commissioners endorse jail plan

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

A corrective action plan put in place in the aftermath of an inmate escape last month earned the stamp of approval of the Curry County Commission.

Warden Leslie Johnson detailed policy and procedural changes during Wednesday’s Curry County Commission meeting, which include mandatory visual head counts and better documentation.

“I’m pretty comfortable with it actually. By determining where the problems were, I think Leslie Johnson addressed each of them to my satisfaction, at least for the time being. I do believe it will be an ever-changing situation (at the jail),” County Commission Vice Chairman Albin Smith said.

Smith said he anticipates issues to arise at the jail as an inherent aspect of the industry.

“We’re dealing with guys that are always looking for the next loophole,” he said. “Hindsight is always pretty dang good as you look back on it. (The procedural deficiencies) should have been taken care of. (But) if we were to examine where we were a year ago compared to where we are now, I’m still pretty pleased.”

Inmate Guadalupe Rodriguez, 29, escaped Dec. 23 while working in the kitchen, according to court records. Jail personnel didn’t discover him missing until almost two days later despite several head counts.

“When we reviewed the incident, our biggest flaw was the kind of counts we were doing,” Johnson told the commission, explaining too much faith was placed in detention officers knowing individual inmates by sight.

Under the old system, names were called out and inmates answered if present. The new system requires detention officers match faces to file photos.

Other measures enacted:
—Head counts will be conducted six times a day with two of them timed with shift changes. During the counts, inmates are locked down and each officer is accountable by signing off on count sheets.

—Two supervisors must sign off on daily reports.

—Camera checks are being conducted weekly by staff who are required to document and request repairs. “It forces them to write it down every week,” Johnson said.

—A kitchen door Rodriguez used to escape can only be opened in the presence of a detention center officer.

—Kitchen contractors are required to have handheld two-way radios on them at all times.

Rodriguez, who was captured five days later in Dimmitt, Texas, used a stolen radio in his escape.