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Jail report blasts county; officials blast report

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Alan Kalmanoff has angered government leaders from the Seattle suburbs to Cincinnati.

He can add Bernalillo County to the list.

Kalmanoff, a California-based consultant hired to examine jail overcrowding, issued a lengthy report Tuesday that slammed local judges, county executives, civil attorneys, prosecutors, police and almost everyone else involved in the local criminal justice system.

In short, he said, there are too many “non-dangerous inmates” in the local jail system, the root cause of its chronic and expensive overcrowding problem. Kalmanoff doles out the blame liberally.


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Law enforcement agencies, he said, bring too many people to jail on minor charges. Deputy County Manager Tom Swisstack interferes with jail operations, he contends. The bail bond industry, he suggests, holds sway over local politicians and the courts.

“This pattern is too deep in the local fabric to label it ‘corruption’; it is the way of life, business, and livelihood for too many,” Kalmanoff writes in the 30-page report.

Bernalillo County’s top administrators denounced much of the criticism in a news conference Tuesday. They said they terminated Kalmanoff’s county contract because he was abrasive and people complained about him. Kalmanoff said he thought the project was so important he finished it anyway.

He was hired to work with other agencies and help them collaborate on strategies to address jail overcrowding, according to his contract. The county paid him about $43,000 before terminating the contract. It would have paid him nearly $50,000 if he’d completed it.

“I was astounded,” County Manager Tom Zdunek said of the report. ” … I think it’s way out of order.”

Swisstack, whom Kalmanoff targets repeatedly throughout the report, said that if Kalmanoff has evidence of wrongdoing in the criminal justice system, he ought to offer specifics.

“It’s not based on any foundation whatsoever,” Swisstack said.

In a written statement to the Journal, Kalmanoff said Tuesday he has had about 450 jail contracts over his career and that it’s inevitable that someone occasionally will feel threatened by his evaluations.

It’s “not possible to speak the truth without appearing abrasive to those who are spoken of if they are vulnerable to the truth; but really, the report is all about facts and data, and very far from partisanship, as, after all, I have no personal interest in the issues or the players, just calling out the truth,” he said.


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County Commissioner Wayne Johnson said the county shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Kalmanoff’s work. Much of the report backs up the county’s own initiatives and matches what others have found – that the pace of court proceedings contributes to overcrowding in the jail, where people are often held before trial. “It’s easy to shoot the messenger when you don’t want to hear the message,” Johnson said.

County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins agreed that the report offers some good analysis. But some of the recommendations are either impractical or already being done, she said.

“I am very concerned about what seems to me partisan overtones, particularly the personal attacks on Tom Swisstack, which I believe are unfounded,” Hart Stebbins said.

Kalmanoff is executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Law and Policy Planning in Berkeley, Calif. He holds a law degree and doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. In the report, he said his experience includes an appointment by a federal judge to serve as deputy master over 58 California prisons in a crowding case.

Kalmanoff has faced criticism in Snohomish County, Washington; San Mateo County, Calif.; and Cincinnati, Ohio, according to news reports. He’s been called arrogant and accused of factual errors.

Recommended by jail chief

Swisstack said Kalmanoff was hired in Bernalillo County on the recommendation of Ramon Rustin, the county’s jail chief. The two had apparently worked together when Rustin ran a jail in Pittsburgh. Because the contract was under $50,000, bids weren’t needed.

Swisstack said the county terminated Kalmanoff’s contract after hearing complaints about him. The county released an email in which Kalmanoff apologized for being disrespectful to Swisstack.

Kalmanoff wrote that he continued working on the report for seven months after his termination because county taxpayers need to know “things are not as they ought to be.”

In his Bernalillo County report, Kalmanoff said the overcrowding in the jail system is “easily preventable.”

“The current jail system population consists of mostly non-dangerous inmates,” Kalmanoff writes.

He adds later: “Law enforcement brings too many to jail on minor charges; too many who hold no risk are held in pretrial detention and for far too long; too many filings result in dismissal, so that many are released without conviction after serving long periods of pretrial incarceration. The system has one of the worst records of delay in the nation, and that is a primary cause of jail crowding.”

The report comes as a civil rights lawsuit over conditions inside the local jail system lumbers into its 19th year. Kalmanoff estimates the jail has paid $10 million in legal fees over the years.

The county has asked a federal judge to help settle the lawsuit once and for all by holding a trial on the merits.

The county’s jail was designed for 2,236 inmates, but the population has climbed above 2,900 at times over the years. Last summer, the population hovered about 200 to 300 inmates above design capacity. The population is now down to 2,050 inmates, thanks partly to shipping inmates to other counties.

Swisstack and others said the county, courts and other agencies are making progress toward addressing overcrowding.