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County no longer using Texas jail for overflow

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County is no longer housing hundreds of inmates in a jail near Houston.

The county sent about 330 of its inmates to Livingston, Texas, last year as part of an effort to relieve overcrowding in the jail here, the Metropolitan Detention Center.

In October, the county was paying to house over 700 inmates at other jails around New Mexico and Texas. But the inmate population has fallen in recent months, reducing the need to send prisoners elsewhere.

It’s difficult to say precisely why the population has fallen, but fewer people are being booked into jail in the first place, according to a county analysis released to the Journal.

The county and local judges also have reached agreement on a variety of measures intended to help relieve overcrowding. Prosecutors and public defenders are also working with the county.

“So far, there appears to be the ability for us to reduce our population,” Deputy County Manager Tom Swisstack said in an interview. “… I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Peter Cubra, an attorney for inmates with mental or developmental disabilities, said “it’s a good thing” that Bernalillo County inmates no longer have to endure the 880-mile trip to east Texas.

“Many complaints were made by people who were spending 13 hours on a bus to Texas,” he said.

The county still has about 220 inmates in jails around New Mexico, Swisstack said. He doesn’t anticipate using the east Texas jail again.

Since late January, the population inside the Bernalillo County jail has been well below its operational capacity of 1,843 inmates, according to the county. The jail actually has hundreds more beds than that – 2,236 in all – but many of those are reserved for inmates with health problems.

Pulling inmates from Texas, however, doesn’t mean the county’s population challenge is over.

Housing inmates outside Bernalillo County was always intended as a temporary measure, and the county has not yet eliminated the practice. Swisstack said he hopes to bring the out-of-county figure below 200 sometime next week.

The county also continues to face a 19-year lawsuit centering on conditions inside the jail system.

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