Leave jail to corrections professionals
By Commissioner Paul Campos
The way to make the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility a better and safer place is to employ corrections professionals, not law-enforcement professionals. That’s what the debate with Sheriff Greg Solano is all about. What was offered on the question of whether corrections professionals or members of law enforcement should run jails? Not much.
Instead of weighing in on this important question, in its April 12 editorial, “Sheriff should be part of county jail reform,” The New Mexican instead slandered dedicated public servants with suggestions that “cronyism” is rampant and somehow suggest improper relationships are behind the recent debate. It was argued that the sheriff should continue to have input on jail operations, despite the fact that state law clearly places responsibility to operate the jail on the jail administrator, not the sheriff.
It was suggested that Santa Fe County should accept every seriously intoxicated person brought to the jail by law enforcement, regardless of whether the county’s medical professionals think that they can be managed medically.It was suggested to the public that prisoners are now being released willynilly into the community by mistake and ignored the fact that the reason we now know about a very small number of improper releases is because the new administration of corrections professionals cared enough to find out and conducted an audit.
It was suggested that the facility is “crime-ridden,” based only on a dispute between county administration and the sheriff over which incidents should be reported and when.
How do the two incidents complained of by the sheriff justify a conclusion that “crime” is “rampant?” And how can it be concluded that “crimes” had taken place when the county’s professional investigators at the jail couldn’t even determine whether anything had happened? Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Is that what’s being advocated?
Has The New Mexican forgotten the strip-searches that cost the county, the former operator and their insurers $8.5 million? Has The New Mexican forgotten the suicides? The deaths? And the untold amounts of public money that will be spent because the prior operator and the previous jail administration couldn’t get a handle on these things? Since the new management team has taken over, these types of incidents have thankfully become a thing of the past. We feel that opinions laced with insinuation and presenting only one side of an argument should be beneath a newspaper that is concerned with the important details that construct the whole picture and accurately depict the full story.
Sure, there are substantial differences with Sheriff Solano about the operation of the jail, and the friction that was observed this week may continue. We are certain that the sheriff’s sense of duty will compel him to tell us, and the community, in the clearest possible way, if he believes anything is wrong. We are confident that the facility will be better because the Board of County Commissioners has made a public commitment to make it better. The jail will be a better place because the county administration has secured the assistance of corrections experts. The jail will be a better place because the Board of County Commissioners and the county manager have decided to address the pay issue, recruit and retain experienced corrections professionals, once and for all. It is our hope that in this important discussion, the public will not be deprived of a critical missing partner — this newspaper and the public they aim to inform.
Paul Campos is a Santa Fe County Commissioner who represents District 4.
Commissioner Campos states that "state law clearly places responsibility to operate the jail on the jail administrator, not the sheriff."
The State Statutes clearly allows for either the Sheriff or a Jail Administrator. For Commissioner Campos to misstate that fact he is either misinformed by County Legal or skewing the facts for his letter.
Commissioner Campos asserts the jail is not currently Crime Ridden and states "And how can it be concluded that “crimes” had taken place when the county’s professional investigators at the jail couldn't even determine whether anything had happened?" At the crux of this is two rape cases. Rape Cases are often one persons word against another and failure by jail officials to report the crimes for up to two weeks only made a hard investigation worse. There is however documented cases where there is no doubt what so ever that over $30,000 in cash and jewelry has been stolen from those arrested and taken to jail in just the last 5-6 months. The thefts continue even as recent as days ago. How many thefts of cash go unreported every day by immigrants or others who "don't want to make waves"?
A $4,000 ring was reported on 4-20-07, $500 in cash stolen in the last week, clothing watch and ring valued at $20,000 on 4-6-07. In many of these cases and others there is verification by others that the items existed when the victims were taken to jail. In one case a few months ago a city police officer verified $5,000 in cash that an inmate had when booked into jail. When he was released he had no cash at all. Simple steps could be taken to alleviate this problem but instead jail officials and county commissioners just keep saying crime is not happening at the jail.
Commissioner Campos tries to make a case that jail officials discovered that "we now know about a very small number of improper releases is because the new administration of corrections professionals cared enough to find out and conducted an audit." The audit began and was completed about one month after employees of the State Probation and Parole and myself complained about such releases which were not even being reported to the Sheriff's Office and were being kept quiet. On this I know Commissioner Campos is not misinformed because I have made this very clear to all the commissioners.
Commissioner Campos talks about having corrections professionals run the jail and I agree we need to hire the best people for the jobs. I don't agree that has always been the case. One of the problems that the private companies had when they ran our jail was they kept bringing in prison people to run a jail. It was identified as one of the biggest problems that caused issues such as the illegal strip searches. In prison inmates can be strip searched at any time, in jails there is strict rules as to who can me strip searched and who cannot. That is not to say that prison employees can not adjust to running jails only that intense training and education is required to learn the differences. That type of education unfortunately is currently being conducted through trial and error resulting in many problems.
Commissioner Campos states the commission has made a commitment to make the jail better. I hope it happens, I want to be proven wrong and for a year from now for someone to say "see how well the jail is going now". I never wanted to run day to day operations and I never have done so. I just always believed that I could be a part of the solution.