Citizens air jail concerns

By Kevin Baird

CNJ STAFF WRITER

kbaird@cnjonline.com

James Slagowski is concerned the site of the proposed Curry County jail in south Clovis is too close to his neighborhood, which includes an elementary school.

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CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks
Bob Johnson with Reilly Johnson Architecture of Denver explains the features of a proposed new jail, which would be located on land near the city landfill, during Tuesday’s town hall meeting at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

He asked Curry County commissioners and county officials during Tuesday’s town hall meeting to discuss next week’s $9.88 million bond election if there would be a fence or exterior surveillance system built around the jail.

He speculated escaped inmates could easily terrorize this neighborhood and he is worried about the safety of his community.

“This is something the county has to address,” said Slagowski, adding he lived about a mile and a half from the proposed county jail site.

Robert Johnson of Reilly Johnson Architecture, who was contracted to design the new jail, said some of the jails he has designed were secure enough that fences were unnecessary. He said the proposed jail’s design is still conceptual and fences had not been discussed, but a fence is definitely an option. Johnson added that most jail escapes are because of human error.

The county is asking voters to approve a bond that would fund construction of medium to maximum security detention center on 15 acres of city-donated land on Brady Avenue east of the landfill.

County officials plan to keep the downtown county jail open and house minimum security inmates as well as female inmates.

The proposed plan has the backing of the city council.

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Courtesy photo: Curry County
The proposed site of the new Curry County jail, if a $9.88 million bond renewal is approved by voters on Tuesday.

County commissioners say the current jail near Main Street is overcrowded and poorly designed.

The jail has gained national attention for a string of escapes.

The town hall meeting began with Johnson giving a presentation on the proposed jail’s conceptual design. The jail will cost more than $13.4 million, and the county will use cash reserves to fund the $3.6 million not covered by the bond. It will house 136 medium and maximum security inmates. The jail will feature a video visitation and video court system to cut down on the costs and security threats associated with transporting prisoners. The jail is built around a “Main Street,” or hallway that provides an excellent line of site down the length of the jail, he

When Johnson’s presentation was over, Chairman Frank Blackburn invited the public to ask questions about the jail:

• Chet Spear, who introduced himself as a former county jail administrator (about 20 years ago) had a lot of questions for the commissioners. Spear read a list of items to include office supplies, and an extra transportation vehicle among other things, that should be included in the cost model.

Johnson said he does not know if an extra transportation vehicle would be needed. He said he is trying to keep costs down as much as he can.

“I can’t tell you with certainty that everything is there,” Johnson said about the cost model. He added that security electronics and furniture were both equated into the cost model.

Johnson also said there is a $640,800 contingency fund factored into the cost model that will hopefully care of any cost overflow. He added that he cannot guarantee that there will not be a cost over-run.

Spear asked County Manager Lance Pyle how much it cost to operate the newly proposed jail.

Pyle said the county will use the money used to house inmates outside the county and existing revenues to operate the proposed jail. He said taxes will not increase to fund the jail’s operation.

He also asked how the county will staff the new jail as well as the existing one if they cannot keep the existing jail staffed right now.

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said many people who train to become detention officers feel that when they start working at the downtown county jail, that they are “thrown into the lion’s den,” and the job is a lot harder than they thought. Bostwick said he believes the addition of a medium to maximum security jail will create a better work environment in the downtown jail and the new jail.

Interim Jail Administrator Tori Sandoval said she is working with Manny Romero of the New Mexico Association of Counties, who also has more than 30 years in to develop a formula to fully staff both jails. Sandoval said the training hours for jail guards will be increasing from 80 to 120 hours, which she hopes will increase confidence and competency in the jail guards.

• Donna Whitfield asked why the inmates have to have recreation rooms, day rooms and social programs.

Sandoval said it is a federal law that inmates be allowed recreation. She also said keeping inmates busy is better than letting them do nothing, which usually leads to destructive behavior.

• Barry Lewis asked what the interest rate on the bond will be if voters approve it, and Pyle said he did not have the exact figure with him, but the rate fell between 3.5 and 4 percent.

• Glen Adair asked why the county does not hire privatized jail security to run the downtown jail and the proposed jail.

Blackburn said he has sat through three presentations on privatized security and, “it’s not going to work.”

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval answered Adair’s question with a question, “If it is as great as everybody says it is, why are no other counties in New Mexico doing it?” He said the New Mexico Association of Counties recommended Curry County not use privatized security.

Tori Sandoval said there is only one other county in New Mexico with privatized security.