The new chief at the Metropolitan Detention Center said he’ll follow the direction of the Bernalillo County Commission and won’t have jail staff check an inmate’s immigration status or hold undocumented detainees when they would otherwise be released, unless there is a court order.
Former Bernalillo County Undersheriff Greg Rees was introduced Thursday as the next MDC chief. Rees worked in law enforcement for 24 years before he took the position at the jail several days ago.
Earlier this week, an attempt by County Commissioner Wayne Johnson to rescind the county’s declaration as an “immigrant-friendly community” was rejected by a 4-1 vote.
“That decision was decided upon by the County Commission. I work for the county manager, who works for the County Commission, and they’ve made their decision that we will not be working with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)” Rees said. “We will honor all legal requests. But we work for the commission, and I take our direction from the commission.”
County policies concerning undocumented immigrants came into question last week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions called Albuquerque a “sanctuary city” and threatened to withhold federal money for law-enforcement assistance if the city doesn’t comply with federal directives regarding detention of arrested foreign nationals.
Johnson’s proposal would have allowed Department of Homeland Security personnel to meet with detainees at the jail to determine their immigration status and called for the county to honor requests to hold some detainees for up to 48 hours when they would otherwise have been released.
Rees also said on Thursday that he plans to address staffing problems at the jail. He said too many corrections officers are having to work “forced overtime.”
And he said he’ll continue the county’s efforts to address issues that have been brought to light as part of a more than 20-year federal lawsuit against the jail, which focuses on jail conditions such as overcrowding.
In recent years, the jail’s population has been lowered significantly through several criminal justice reforms from highs approaching 2,700 inmates from 2007 to 2012. The facility, which has about 2,200 beds, had about 1,250 inmates on Thursday and four of the jail’s 32 pods to house inmates were closed, said Tom Ruiz, who has been the interim chief since July 2016.
Ruiz will continue to work at the jail as an administrator.
County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said she recruited Rees to the position after having discussions with jail staff.
“They asked me for a boots-on-the-ground type of person,” she said. “(Jail staff) would like to see someone from within the county.”
Rees will earn $150,000 a year.