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Editorial: County needs jail plan

The Bernalillo County jail system has been the focus of a federal civil-rights lawsuit centered on overcrowded conditions since 1995. So while it is good the jail is close to getting the number of inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center down to its 2,236 capacity, taxpayers should hold their applause.

Because the county still doesn’t have a long-term, best-practices, data-driven plan for controlling the jail population – other than throwing money at the problem to make it go away temporarily.

Earlier this year County Commissioners approved spending $6.8 million to ship inmates to other lockups through next summer. At the time Commissioner Wayne Johnson said “I will not do this again,” and Commissioner Art De La Cruz stated “I will not support it in the future.”

So what, exactly, is Plan B? Is there a Plan B?

That’s questionable, since the 11th-hour shell-out-to-ship-out Plan A came about under federal judicial threat, and considering officials have spent 18 years presuming too many of the wrong people are behind bars while blaming law enforcement, the state prison system, the courts, drug addiction and the mental health establishment for not stepping into the breach.

For almost two decades Bernalillo County taxpayers have financed lawyers on both sides of the problem; it has yet to be resolved with an acceptable jail population or better and safer conditions. Now the court has threatened “substantial” daily fines until the county lays out how it will address both. Putting inmates on a bus headed east to Texas is not a long-term solution.

It’s time to lock down a real plan.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.