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Bernalillo County promises to cut jail population

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Bernalillo County has promised a federal judge it will significantly reduce the jail population within a month and stop assigning three female inmates to a cell designed for two by Thursday.

The county will also ensure that women charged with or convicted of violent offenses will be separated from those who haven’t.

The agreements are outlined in a two-page order signed last week by U.S. District Judge James A. Parker. He had originally ordered the county to appear in court to defend conditions inside the jail unit for female inmates, but the more recent order supersedes that one, based on “voluntary commitments” by the county.

Parker noted that the county had already made some changes.

Deputy County Manager Tom Swisstack suggested the county will consider shipping inmates to other jails or putting more of them in a house-arrest-like program.

“The answer at this point,” he said, “is we are looking at every option. Whether we are going to ship inmates out will be presented to the governing body in the future. Right now, we are reviewing those inmates that might be eligible for community-based programming.”

Zach Ives, an attorney for the inmates, said the jail has made improvements, but problems remain.

“We’re pleased that the order to show cause prompted the county to make positive changes that should increase safety for women in segregated housing at the MDC,” Ives said. “We hope this will be the first step in a longer process. There remain serious problems at the MDC, including overcrowding and understaffing, that cause unreasonably dangerous conditions there.”

The Metropolitan Detention Center now has about 2,490 inmates in custody, though the population has sometimes climbed to 2,800 in the past. It was designed for 2,236.

Parker’s order is part of long-running civil rights lawsuit over conditions inside the Bernalillo County jail system, first filed in 1995.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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