County jail ‘a mess’ and needs changes

We agree with all who say the most pressing issue of the day is catching those who escaped from the Curry County jail Sunday night.

Once that’s done, there is an immediate need to establish an independent investigating body to assess the entire jail operation, starting with how this latest jailbreak by eight highly dangerous prisoners occurred and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The commissioners began a search for an outside investigative agency during their executive session Tuesday.

As County Commissioner Robert Sandoval said this week, “Our jail is a mess and we’ve got to fix it.”

Among the many questions this group needs to answer are these:

• How did detention center officers not notice that the eight inmates cut a hole in the jail’s roof? After all, District Attorney Matt Chandler said that action probably took a couple of days’ work.

• Doesn’t the detention center have security cameras on the roof and aren’t those cameras monitored?

• How did the inmates get the tools they used to cut through the roof?

• Is the jail structure sound, or does it need to be reinforced?

• Did guards help the inmates escape as bail bondswoman Christina Snell has alleged in a CNJ report?

• Is the facility staffed appropriately by qualified personnel?

• Are county commissioners even qualified to oversee the jail or should it be turned over to the Sheriff’s Department or — our preference — a private agency?

As for the loud (and anonymous) readers on our Web site who’ve called for the resignation of County Manager Lance Pyle, we disagree. Pyle did not cause the problems at the jail in his 10 months on the job, though he clearly hasn’t solved them.

We do agree with those people demanding changes in how the jail is operated by Curry County commissioners. It has been evident for some time that a myriad of security issues plague the jail. Most recently, last month, a female inmate snuck out a jail door by hiding behind a food cart and reached Main Street before being hit by a passing car and captured.

We knew there was a serious problem in December 2006 when an inmate apparently walked out the back door and wasn’t reported missing for two days.

And four arrests of detention center officers in the last eight months for smuggling narcotics or contraband into the jail? It’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys in there.

Our community can’t wait any longer for county commissioners to deal with these problems. Sunday’s events were a horrific reminder.

Edward Salas, one of the eight who escaped on Sunday night, had been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in the shooting death of a 10-year-old boy. Another suspected killer was also in the group of escapees and all eight have violent pasts.

Now we have to ask law enforcement officers to put their lives on the line and bring these people back to justice. Let us pray nobody gets hurt in the process.