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MDC Review Not Yet Finished

By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Brutal attacks at the jail last year triggered public outcry and a call from Bernalillo County commissioners for an independent review of jail operations.
        One commissioner said it was time for "sunshine" on the issue.
        Sixteen months later, another beating made the news this week when three inmates were charged with attempted murder for allegedly attacking another inmate. Two of the inmates are accused of "boot-stomping" the victim's head.
        So far, none of the independent review team's work has been made public.
        Bernalillo County says it's making real progress in its review of jail operations and anticipates that a report on the work will become public after completion.
        County officials wouldn't offer an estimate of when that will be. A team of outside experts — headed by Michele Deitch, a lawyer and national expert on prisoners' rights — has made several visits to the Metropolitan Detention Center, the county's massive lockup on the far West Side.
        "We've received a great deal of valuable information and suggestions from the experts," County Attorney Jeff Landers said in an interview. "I can't go into detail on what they are because that information is protected by attorney-client privilege."
        The team provided a verbal update to county commissioners in May but has not yet completed its work or written a final report, Landers said. He said the work so far is covered by attorney-client privilege because of a federal lawsuit centering on crowded jail conditions and other notices of planned litigation.
        County Commission Chairman Art De La Cruz said the experts have examined whether there are systematic problems on the part of staff and management. One concern to be studied was whether there are "systemic problems at MDC related to race," he said.
        "While I cannot comment on specifics due to current and pending litigation, I can tell you that there was no indication of any systemic failure," De La Cruz said in a written statement to the Journal.
        The Deitch team was hired in December or January through Robles, Rael & Anaya P.C., the law firm that represents Bernalillo County in a long-running civil-rights lawsuit over jail conditions. That lawsuit, filed in 1995, is known as the McClendon case.
        The Deitch team has been paid about $106,930 so far, Landers said. The experts have made "multiple visits" to the jail, might make more visits and are reviewing "a large volume of documents," Landers said.
        The county's McClendon attorneys have not yet requested a final report from the team, Landers said.
        "I anticipate that the final report will be made available to the federal court in the McClendon litigation and will be made available to the public at that time," Landers told the Journal.
        The Deitch team was hired in consultation with Landers' office after an Internet search and calls to firms with experience in analyzing "correctional facilities and their operations," Landers said. The Deitch experts are considered a neutral and independent group that advocates "in some respects for prisoner rights," he said.
        County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said she couldn't discuss the experts' work because of the pending litigation. But she said that, generally, there have been signs of progress at the jail, including the hiring of three pro-tem judges to help speed the processing of inmates through the jail system and the decision to hire a new jail director with experience running a large detention center.
        It was Stebbins and De La Cruz who pushed for the jail review in June 2009 — after allegations surfaced of two brutal beatings, a rape and a sexual relationship between a guard and an inmate.
        In one of the incidents, inmate Avery Hadley ended up unconscious and on life-support at University of New Mexico Hospital. The beating of Hadley, a black man, led to outcry from African-American community leaders, who said they were frustrated by the lack of communication and answers about what had happened to him.
        De La Cruz said at the time that the county should take action and "have sunshine on this issue." In November, Stebbins said she was disappointed the county hadn't moved forward with the hiring of independent experts. The Deitch team was hired a month or two after her complaint.
        Just this week, meanwhile, three inmates were charged with attempted murder in the alleged beating of a fellow inmate. Two of the inmates are accused of "boot-stomping" the victim's head five or six times.
        Crowding in the jail system has been a focus of the McClendon litigation. The inmate population at the Metropolitan Detention Center was holding steady at roughly 2,600 in May, or about 16 percent above design capacity, officials said.

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