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Santa Fe County to close juvenile jail

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe County Commission voted Tuesday to close the county’s youth detention center while also agreeing to house juvenile inmates at the San Juan County facility, outside Farmington.

Earlier this year, the commission discussed closing the youth center and directed County Manager Katherine Miller to complete a formal closure plan.

Since that meeting, a contract was negotiated with San Juan County to hold juvenile inmates from Santa Fe, and a layoff plan was negotiated with AFSCME, the union that represents the 11 employees who will be affected by the closure.

Miller said Tuesday the juvenile jail currently had just four inmates – three from Santa Fe County and one from Rio Arriba County – and usually housed only a handful of inmates.

She said that it’s more important now to consider closing the youth detention center during the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure is also expected to save the county $1.7 million annually, which Miller said would help offset expected losses in revenue in the coming months.

In addition, the vacated juvenile jail could be used to house adult inmates from the county jail in case coronavirus starts spreading through the jail, or as a shelter for the homeless population, she said.

So far, 12 adult inmates have been tested for coronavirus and all came back negative, Miller said.

The juvenile detention center’s current employees must complete a questionnaire by Wednesday that the county will use to determine what department would be the best fit for them. Employees who do not accept a job offer with the county will be laid off, Miller said.

“Everyone who wants to continue working for the county will have the opportunity to do so, though it may not be in their first job choice and may be at a lower initial salary,” she said.

Sam Chavez, who spoke on behalf of AFSCME, said the union opposes the closure of the facility because of the uncertainty it creates for employees.

“They have great concerns about what’s going to happen with their livelihoods going forward,” he said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the closure plan and the contract with San Juan County to house juveniles there, which will cost Santa Fe County $225 per inmate per day.

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