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Expert: Inmates denied out-of-cell time

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Inmates inside the segregation units of the Bernalillo County jail are supposed to get about an hour a day outside their cells, under a court order.

But they haven’t always received it, a court-appointed expert said Tuesday.

Manuel Romero, the expert, testified that inmates inside the segregation units have sometimes been denied their out-of-cell time for not making their bed properly, yelling repeatedly or otherwise misbehaving.

Frontline corrections officers, he said, sometimes have withheld out-of-cell time without getting prior approval from a supervisor – a policy he urged the jail to change.

“You certainly don’t want line staff making that decision unilaterally,” Romero said.

The lack of out-of-cell time is just one court-ordered requirement that the jail has failed to meet, attorneys for the inmates contend.

They asked Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker on Tuesday to impose substantial fines for failure to comply with his orders from last year. The orders were intended to improve conditions in the jail as part of a long-running civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates.

An attorney for the county, meanwhile, told Parker that the Metropolitan Detention Center has “made an enormous amount of progress,” plowing money into a hiring spree to bring on more corrections officers and to relieve overcrowding by shipping inmates to other jails.

Jeffrey Baker, who represents the county, said the attorneys for inmates are quibbling with conditions on particular dates in the past “as if this were some kind of game of gotcha.”

Some of the policies targeted by the inmate attorneys have already been changed or suspended, he said.

Parker didn’t announce a decision Tuesday, but he heard testimony from Romero during a daylong hearing that stretched past 5 p.m.

Romero estimated that about 70 percent to 80 percent of the 300 or so inmates in segregation units get their required out-of-cell time. He said he remembers instances of inmates being denied out-of-cell time for a few days or a whole week.

The time could be denied for reasons that include failing to make a bed properly, yelling or verbally abusing someone, Romero said.

The jail, which sits atop the West Mesa, is one of the largest in the country. It has 2,236 inmate beds.

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