Officials: Jail changes ongoing

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Curry County officials said Monday they are working on detention center changes in the wake of a prison escape, but they aren’t ready to reveal what that work entails.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle released a prepared statement Monday that said neither he nor the Curry County Commission are trying to keep information from citizens.

“I think this is something the public has a right to know,” Pyle said. “I wanted the public to know what we have been doing and what we’re in the process of doing at the detention center.”

Pyle and commissioners discussed a jail assessment conducted by the New Mexico Association of Counties in a closed meeting on Sept. 2.

The Commission has declined to release the report, citing attorney-client privilege.

In his statement Monday, Pyle detailed staffing and structural problems that have led to escape attempts in the past, and how those issues have been addressed.

Most recently, eight prisoners escaped from the detention center on Aug. 24. Four have since been captured. A convicted murderer and a man facing slaying charges are among the remaining escapees.

Pyle said in the statement he plans to recommend the county commission add four to five detention officers, and the detention center is 11 employees short.

Due to possible safety issues, Pyle said he couldn’t comment on specific information from the briefing or actions to be taken.

County Commissioner Robert Sandoval, a member of the county’s jail committee, said he was briefed on the jail assessment separately from the commission meeting, which he was unable to attend.

“I gathered we’ve got a lot of problems we’ve got to fix, simple as that,” Sandoval said. “We’ve got problems for years that we were not aware of until this breakout and we’re going to have to fix them.”

Sandoval would not give specific examples of problems. He said if the briefing gave him information on a weakness in the detention center, he’d be telling a prisoner how to escape if he repeated the information.

In that instance, Sandoval asked, “Am I doing the public a service or a disservice?” He would not elaborate if such a situation was hypothetical or actual.

Pyle said he has not seen the assessment, but was involved in the briefing. The only copy of the assessment is being kept by County Attorney Stephen Doerr, Pyle said.

Pyle wouldn’t comment when asked if he had requested a copy of the assessment. Though he said he could read the full assessment if he made the request, he is confident he has enough information from the briefing to move forward on jail changes.

Attempts to contact Doerr Monday were unsuccessful.