Roosevelt Detention Center inmate population still near capacity

By William Thompson

The adult inmate population at Roosevelt County Detention Center stood at 80 yesterday, just two short of capacity. The center’s administrator, Jesse Luera, said he expects county commissioners will adopt an ordinance on March 7 to issue a gross receipts tax revenue bond for an addition to the detention center to relieve crowding.

The addition will consist of a new wing with four units housing an additional 62 beds.

A 20-year bond, at a cost to the county of $300,000 per year is expected to be approved at the March 7 meeting. Roosevelt County administrator Charlene Hardin said at this point it is estimated that the project will cost about $3.3 million. Wilson and Wilson Contractors have already been approved to complete the project.

The inmate population reached 96 at one point in January necessitating relocation of 10 inmates to Dickens County (Texas) Detention Center, at a cost to Roosevelt County of $38 per inmate per day, according to Hardin.

Luera told county commissioners recently that when the jail nears capacity he is unable to accept mental patients or prisoners requiring protective custody.

“The facility is designed to hold just 48 beds,” Luera said. “The overcrowding has been an ongoing issue for years.”
Luera said it often happens that some men and women inmates must resort to sleeping on cots due to a shortage of beds. He said inmate tension rises as the population nears capacity. He said the jail keeps the same amount of staff, 20, even when inmate population numbers spike.

We haven’t had anything major happen yet,” he said. “At any given time we have two officers on the floor and one in control. Sometimes we have three officers on the floor.”
Luera said New Mexico doesn’t have laws requiring jails to release prisoners during overcrowding, and that raises safety issues for the detention center, including fire safety issues.

“Right now we have a lot of cramped space, but there are some inmates I wouldn’t want to see released,” he said. “We currently have three inmates charged with murder. We have numerous probation violators and inmates with drug or alcohol abuse problems.”

Portales Fire Department Batallion Chief John Bridges said no one from the jail has contacted the fire department about any fire safety issues.

“We have not been advised of any concerns from that entity,” Bridges said.

Newly-installed fire marshal for Portales, Batallion Chief Darwin Chenault, said he has just taken over in the past two weeks as fire marshal and hasn’t been by the detention center yet in his capacity as fire marshal.

“From a fire safety point of view I’m pretty confident their doors and holding areas are big enough (to allow egress from the building),” he said. “If anyone from there or any offical wants us to investigate the building, all they have to do is contact us and we will.”

Hardin said she’s concerned about safety at the jail.
“It’s very hectic there,” Hardin said. “It’s not safe for the employees.”

Luera said he will be happy when construction begins on the new wing.

“When we get the new unit we will house 72 beds in the old unit and 72 beds in the new unit,” he said.

Many of the male inmates are sleeping two to a cell now, and nine current female inmates share a unit of just three cells, according to Luera.