Continuing Efforts for Detention Center Oversight
William Hudson, President of the Southwestern Chapter of ACLU-NM
Many of us were deeply disappointed when Resolution, R-15-16, calling for the creation of a Grant County Detention Center Oversight Committee, was disapproved in March. That resolution was drafted by the local ACLU chapter, after hundreds of citizens signed our petition, calling for such an oversight committee.
During that County Commission meeting there was criticism that the vocabulary in the resolution was too restrictive in its requirements on the County Commission. That may or may not be the case; our local chapter of ACLU-NM drafted the document with no input from members of the county government or the detention center despite several requests for feedback and to work with us.
In rejecting the Resolution, the County maintained citizen oversight was unnecessary. The County Manager and County Commissioners, during their deliberations, repeatedly stated the county run detention center has more than sufficient oversight already. They cited their own State mandated annual tour, and the New Mexico Association of Counties, as examples, in addition to the regular reports from the Detention Center Administrator. It is our position they are seriously misinformed.
With closer inspection, the claimed oversight is insufficient. The monthly reports made to the Commission consists primarily of the number and classifications of inmates, with intermittent requests for approval of contractors agreements. During the most recent annual tour, it was obvious Commissioners knew very little about the operations and procedures at the facility. In actuality one of the the Commissioners had never previously visited the country jail. This would leave the only potential impartial oversight to the New Mexico Association of Counties (NMAC). In truth, the NMAC does not provide any oversight.
The Adult Detention Professional Standards Council of the New Mexico Association of Counties is only an accreditation agency, providing voluntary Adult Detention Professional Standards. While Juvenile Detention Standards have been mandated in order for a facility to be licensed to operate, and there are Federal and State standards for their prisons (a standard one of our Commissioners was recently quoted as calling “unreasonable”), there are no similar requirements for municipal or county adult detention systems. We know the Grant County Detention Center is not currently accredited, it has not applied for accreditation, and from all the information we have, is not likely to meet accreditation standards at any time in the near future. They are not being monitored by the NMAC in order to meet or maintain accreditation.
There are currently no individuals or agencies with the authority to delve into the many recurrent complaints made by detainees and their family members. ACLU volunteers have been interviewing inmates for several years and sharing their concerns with the Detention Center staff. To their credit, often when the issues have been brought to their attention by our volunteers, efforts have been made to correct the problem; but not always. There are occasions when we are informed “there is nothing we can do about it”.
One such occasion was last Summer when an individual was in need of surgery, and after months of nothing being done, and our chapter being told “nothing can be done”. Only after the ACLU-NM Office in Albuquerque intervened by submitting a notice of intention to file suit; was the surgery quickly performed.
What is needed in order to avert these situations is a committee with the expertise and authority to investigate and make recommendations to the Commissioners. Clearly, the Commissioners do not have the time to micro-manage all the departments under their authority, but there should be some oversight if a department is failing in their responsibilities. The Grant County Detention Center is one of the major expense categories for our county government; commissioners would be remiss in their duties if the lack of such oversight should prove to be detrimental to the health and safety of individuals and costly for the county.
The local Southwestern Chapter of ACLU-NM will continue to advocate for the creation of such oversight. Look for our booth during the 4th of July in the Park. We will be happy to provide anyone with information about the ongoing need.