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An ongoing staffing shortage at the county jail has officials seeking assistance from the New Mexico National Guard and exploring the use of interns from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday approved an emergency resolution outlining several potential ways to boost the ranks at the county-run Metropolitan Detention Center, from better funding recruitment efforts to requesting outside manpower.
The county has had persistent difficulty hiring enough correctional officers to fully staff the facility, a problem only exacerbated by the pandemic.
And even more recently, a former jail nurse called into question the quality of medical care at the jail. She alleged in a federal court filing earlier this month that the county’s contracted jail medical provider – Corizon Health – has insufficient personnel to properly care for the inmate population.
The new emergency resolution vaguely notes that the present staffing shortage “has impacted some operations at the facility,” but does not provide specifics.
A county spokesman was unable Tuesday to provide details about how many positions are currently vacant in the facility.
Per the resolution, the county will ask the New Mexico National Guard to return 13 jail correctional officers who are currently out on National Guard duty, and to provide help carrying out non-correctional officer duties at the jail.
It also calls on the county to explore additional personnel boosts, such as temporarily transferring other county employees to the jail to help with administrative tasks and potentially requesting interns from the UNM School of Medicine. Such interns “may perform their internships at MDC and assist with medical needs,” the resolution says.
Officials will also consider options to increase funding for jail technology upgrades and the jail’s recruitment efforts.
The legislation also states that the jail will no longer hold out-of-county inmates unless they have a Bernalillo County hold and will require other jurisdictions to retrieve such inmates currently at the facility.
A county spokesman was unable to answer a Journal question about how many such inmates are presently at MDC.
The commission unanimously approved the resolution after a brief discussion during its Tuesday meeting.
Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty said the new MDC emergency resolution reflected ongoing, “behind-the-scenes” work and discussion about how to keep the jail running amid not only a staffing shortage, but also a recent ransomware attack that took many county systems offline and prompted a temporary lockdown at the jail.
“The county as a whole has been discussing this, finding through a very complicated complex situation the best way to go for the health and safety of our inmates and our staff,” she said.
While the county administration has not commented on the allegations that Corizon is insufficiently staffing MDC, Pyskoty briefly referenced the circumstances leading up to its contract last fall. She said the county was “under a crunch” because its previous jail medical contractor was pulling out of the facility early, but that the contract was vetted and went through “its due diligence.”