Curry County Commissioner Pete Hulder answered questions regarding the future of the jail and possible options for correcting deficiencies identified through an assessment dated Sept. 1. The assessment was conducted by a detention expert with the New Mexico Association of Counties.
The interview was conducted via e-mail. It has been edited for clarity and grammar.
Q: As a member of the county’s jail committee, what has the committee’s focus been for the last couple of months and what priorities/strategies has the committee adopted to address the issues brought forth in the assessment?
A: Focus of the jail committee has been and will always be to ensure the safety and security of both staff and inmates. Priorities include the installation of an improved camera system and obtaining the services of a firm specializing in security systems in detention centers. In addition, maintenance is performed on an on-going basis to address many of the issues in the report.
Since the escape, the jail committee has scheduled numerous meetings in order to address deficiencies in the facility as reported by the NMAC.
Q: Do you feel the jail is secure?
A: Yes, it is secure. There is, however, always room for improvement.
Q: What would you tell the public about the current status of the facility?
A: The public can rest assured their safety is foremost in the minds of the commission, law enforcement and county staff.
I assure you, my family lives in the community and if there were reason to be concerned, those concerns would be addressed.
Q: Were you aware of the (security issues) before the report highlighted them?
A: The purpose of the jail committee is to note (security issues) they are aware of and to take positive action to ensure those deficiencies are resolved. We have been aware of the deficiencies in camera coverage at the detention center. Staff has been working on acquisition of new cameras for the past several months.
Q: There was an assessment conducted at the jail around five years ago that the county contracted. Were any of the same issues identified then?
A: Never saw the result of that assessment.
Q: Address some of the options regarding the jail, (building a new jail, repairing the old one, closing the jail altogether and sending inmates out of county, privatization).
A: Build a new jail: Cost approximately $25/$30 million. I do not believe we have that taxing capacity or the ability to raise those kind of funds.
Closing the jail and sending the inmates out of county: Cost to house out of county varies from $40/$50 per day per inmate. Present population is approximately 260 times $45 per day is $11,700 per day times 365 days is $4.27 million per year. If this option were taken there are numerous additional costs that would be incurred including transportation costs to and from the court system, etc.
Privatization: Discussions with the New Mexico Association of Counties indicate other counties in the state have tried this option and in almost every case the individual counties have returned to operating their own facilities. Other counties have discovered it is more costly to privatize the detention facilities.
Q: What is the feasibility of a new jail?
A: Feasibility is good if we had $25/$30 million. However, from the planning stage to the completion of construction, if it were fasttracked, it would take at a minimum three to five years. From the planning stage to completion of the Special Events Center, it has taken seven years.
Q: What are the options to make the jail secure?
A: The jail is secure. If it were not, the facility would not be used to house prisoners. The safety of both staff and inmates is paramount to the county.
Q: How will you continue to monitor the security of the jail now that you’ve found out the flaws? Will there be continued inspections?
A: The warden will carry out administration of the detention center.
The jail committee will continue to meet as frequently as necessary to solve the issues inherent in the operation of a detention facility. For the previous eight years the county commission has acted favorably on every reasonable recommendation made by the jail committee.