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Editorial: A Sensible Jail Solution

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New Mexico’s biggest lockup is dangerously overcrowded. About 2,500 inmates typically occupy the Metropolitan Detention Center. In fact, when it opened in 2003 it already was over its 2,236-bed capacity.

Bernalillo County’s record for inmate treatment has long been abysmal, and the jail is still subject to a federal civil rights lawsuit first filed in 1995.

In 2009, two vicious beatings put inmate Avery T. Hadley in a coma for weeks and left him with lifelong injuries. Those brutal attacks prompted an outside review that found other problems, including abuse by guards, allegations of inmate-on-inmate and guard-on-inmate rape and more incidences of violence. The jail’s had administrative problems, too, including the liaison of the house-arrest program who pleaded guilty to bribery and identity theft charges and the jail chief’s violations of county nepotism policy.

In 2011, the county brought in Ramon Rustin to replace the former jail chief.

Despite Rustin’s reforms, ongoing overcrowding prompted county commissioners last week to authorize $1.5 million to expand a court program that will allow some defendants to be supervised in the community while awaiting trial. The expansion of the Pretrial Services Division was proposed by judges of the 2nd Judicial District. That cooperation between the jail and judges, including Metropolitan Court judges who sometimes were critical as prior jail administrators sought to usurp judicial powers, is necessary for the success of the expansion.

Many inmates crowding the jail are there for probation violations and minor offenses. Releasing them under strict GPS supervision would free up space for serious offenders — with the goal of a safer community and a smaller, safer and better controlled jail population.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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