Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Curry County officials approve bids for work on annex to house 70 extra inmates

Overcrowding at the Curry County Adult Detention Center has caused the county to move inmates to jails in the panhandle of Texas.

Faced with soaring numbers of jail inmates and plunging financial reserves, Curry County commissioners voted Wednesday to consider issuing $1.3 million worth of gross receipts tax revenue bonds to fund building an annex to the county jail.

They won’t make a final decision on the bonds until after a public hearing scheduled for April 26 in the Curry County Courthouse.

However, pending that funding, the commissioners approved bids Tuesday for work on the annex.

LCI-2, of Clovis, got approval to remodel the former Clovis Fitness Center in the 800 block of Main Street into the annex, for $1,174,813. Fuller Plumbing Supply, of Clovis, got approval to provide prison-style toilets, for $33,615, and Two Draw Welding, of Post, Texas, got approval to construct cells at the annex, for $102,330.

According to detention center Administrator Don Burdine, the detention center was built to house a maximum of 208 prisoners, with only eight isolation cells. In the last two years, though, the number of prisoners going through the jail has risen to over 300 — 341 as of April 26, he said.

County officials have said the cost of housing the prisoners, combined with the cost of housing the overflow in Texas jails, is causing the county’s crippling deficits. The cost of the detention center is projected to reach $3.1 million next year.

But, County Manager Geneva Cooper warned last week that building the annex probably won’t bring a final solution to the county’s detention center woes.

“We will have to have additional staff to operate the annex, which means we will have to come up with the money for their salaries and benefits. It’s not going to reduce our detention expenditures. It will just keep the money in Curry County,” she said.

Burdine said current plans are for the proposed jail annex to have 27 isolation cells, plus a dormitory for low-security inmate workers. The annex potentially could free up 64 beds at the detention center, by providing isolation cells for prisoners who now tie up two whole pods at the detention center, he said.

But, there are long-terms concerns, he added.

“The annex could house 70, but by the time it’s built we could need space for 120, and by the time the bill comes due, we could be running even higher. I don’t see the numbers going down,” he said.

“I don’t know that there’s an inexpensive or good answer,” he added.

County Commissioner Ed Perales is a member of the commission’s jail committee, along with Cooper, Burdine and Commissioner Pete Hulder. He said he believes the county must solve it’s jail problem incrementally, building as much as it can afford at a time. The proposed jail annex may be just such a “baby step,” he said.

“I think if we had the funding, we would build a 600-bed facility for $30 million to $60 million. By 2020, we may need it. But we don’t have the funding. The county tried to pass a gross receipts tax increase last year and it failed. I can only assume that means our taxpayers are not willing to support that tax burden at this point,” he said.

As Curry County residents consider the financial burden of jail overcrowding, they would be wise to keep an eye on the state Legislature, Perales added.

“Every time the Legislature mandates a stiffer sentence for a crime, it fails to provide the money to support those prisoners, leaving that to the counties. People need to consider the cost of those higher sentences. And I think, as we build a new facility, we need to look at alternative types of sentencing,” he said.

Hulder said the county cannot afford to do nothing.

“Size is a concern, but if we do nothing, we continue to pour money into Dickens County and our jail population continues to increase. I think, in the short term, the jail annex gives us the most bang for our buck,” he said.

The commissioners voted Tuesday to join a lawsuit filed by the San Miguel County board of commissioners and the New Mexico Association of Counties against state Corrections Department Secretary Joe R. Williams, the state Department of Corrections, state Probation and Parole Division Director Charlene Knipfing, the state Probation and Parole Division and San Miguel County Probation and Parole Division Director John Doe.

The suit asks the court to declare that the state departments are liable for the cost of housing state prisoners, and for an injunction against housing probation and parole violators in county jails unless the departments are willing and able to pay for them.

“I think the commissioners are saying it’s time we take a stand,” Cooper said Tuesday. “They are saying we can’t continue to foot the bill for everything. We’re being overwhelmed and getting no relief from anyone.”