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Jail may have to move inmates

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The Bernalillo County jail could face a court order to ship out some 730 inmates if the County Commission won’t authorize a smaller plan to relieve overcrowding.

That warning comes in a county staff report prepared for Tuesday’s commission meeting, when commissioners will – for the second time – consider authorizing enough money to transfer 300 inmates to jails outside Bernalillo County.

The renewed consideration of the idea comes as commissioners participate in confidential settlement talks in a long-running federal lawsuit over conditions inside the Metropolitan Detention Center.

In a lengthy report to commissioners, the county administration said the attorneys for inmates are suggesting that the court order the jail to limit its population to 1,800 inmates, down from about 2,530 this year. Shipping out that many inmates to other jails would cost about $16.3 million a year.

To head off that possibility, the administration is asking commissioner to authorize about $6.8 million to transfer 300 inmates. That should be enough to get the jail down to its bed capacity of 2,236.

The commission deadlocked on whether to support a similar plan last month. The idea failed on a 2-2 vote, with Commissioner Lonnie Talbert absent.

Since then, however, the commissioners have been ordered to appear in court for settlement talks aimed at resolving the lawsuit, which is now in its 18th year.

Transferring inmates is intended to be a temporary measure, the county administration says. The jail is also working on longer-term efforts, such as releasing more inmates into a community custody program.

“The overpopulated conditions at MDC compromise officer and inmate safety and create service-delivery problems,” the county administration said in its staff report. “The federal court as a result of the (civil-rights) lawsuit has directed the county to reduce the population to building capacity or lower immediately.”

If approved, the county could work with Littlefield, Texas; Sandoval County; Cibola County; the state; and a private prison company to house inmates.

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