The Journal reported the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) is dangerously understaffed, employing only half the number of detention officers who are required to keep the facility safe. As a result, inmates, most of whom are waiting for trial and are presumed innocent, are not allowed out of their cells for days at a time. During these days-long lockdowns, inmates do not have access to showers and phone calls. The Public Defender announced he will not allow his lawyers to go inside the jail because of safety concerns. The experts who report to the federal judge have said the county is not close to ending the 27-year-old McClendon lawsuit involving unsafe jail conditions. In June, the Bernalillo County Commission promised to fully staff the jail within the next two years. The union representing the jailers says this is too little, too late.
Sixty years ago, the Legislature created the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA) to control flood water. This single-purpose agency has successfully done what it was created to do, and it has done it within budget.
As it did in 1963 when it created AMAFCA, it is time for the Legislature to consider whether the state’s largest county should have its own publicly elected jail authority. With candidates for public office promising to end “catch-and-release,” which presumably means more people behind bars, it is incumbent on the Legislature to create an agency which only has one mission, unlike a county commission, which has too much on its plate to focus adequate time and resources on the largest item in its annual budget. The jail costs 20% of the county budget. The county commission should focus on the other 80%, and let professionals make decisions about how best to operate the jail.
Although the devil is in the details, a one-purpose agency with a publicly elected board of directors might be able to successfully drag the jail into the 21st century.