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Jail administrator says challenges part of why he took job

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Keith Norwood said he sees taking over the Curry County Adult Detention Center as a challenge, but that was always the case with other jobs he took in corrections.

A one-time fullback who came to New Mexico from Georgia on a football scholarship, Keith Norwood has taken on a new challenge. And it’s one he plans to run with.

Norwood has spent one week in the position of jail administrator and has started assessing issues and developing strategies to address them at the facility.

He knew of the jail’s history and problems long before he considered the position — having heard news reports of the 2008 escape and of administrators coming and going — but that’s part of why he decided to take the job, the previously retired grandfather said.

“I questioned myself, but I enjoy the work in corrections. I had reservations; you always have reservations. I had reservations in the other correction jobs (I held) but it all worked out,” he said. “You’re going to have issues, you’re going to have problems, but it’s not the issues that you focus on, it’s the solutions.”

In his first week, Norwood has begun having inmates do work in and around the facility, such as painting and cleaning with the intent of eventually branching out to other county properties.

He has a long list of priorities, topped with assessing security and addressing deficiencies, but staff training, filling vacancies, implementing an inmate work program and getting volunteer programs back on track are things he wants to work on simultaneously.

And he also wants to see the facility through a new accreditation process being introduced by the New Mexico Association of Counties, a process which is expected to take as long as three to four years.

“God willing, I hope to be here longer,” he said of his goals for the position.

“I can’t really point fingers at anybody,”the 25-year state Department of Corrections retiree said of his reluctance to discuss his assessment of the facility. “I see things that concerns me and we are in the process of correcting that. What happened in the past is in the past. I can learn from that by assessing the history of it so we can move on.”

Describing his management style as hands-on, Norwood said he likes to get out of his office and walk through the facility, talking to inmates and staff, keeping an open dialogue with both.

“I like to believe I’m easy to get along with,” he said with a smile, explaining fostering teamwork and ensuring he and his staff go home at the end of each day are enormously important as he conducts himself in the position.

In retirement, Norwood said he found himself restless and not ready to relax completely.

“I was just going to kick back and enjoy the rest of my days,” he said. “(But) you still need to be productive and do things … I couldn’t sit still, I walked about 11 miles a day.”

But he doesn’t plan to give up all relaxation, he said, pointing to archery and riding his Harley-Davidson as two of the things that help him unwind and stay balanced.

Norwood is the first administrator the facility has had in almost 10 months.

Given authority by the county commission to negotiate an employment contract with Norwood, County Manager Lance Pyle hired him as an exempt employee at a salary of $79,800, which will be reviewed for a performance-based increase after six months and considered for renewal in one year.

The contract states Norwood answers only to Pyle and commissioners’ questions or concerns must be directed to the county manager.

Norwood said he requested that clarification.

“I just want the structure and the communication coming from one person,” he said. “You have to have a chain of command, it enhances communication.”

Norwood’s employment contract stipulates he has six months to bring the facility’s policies and procedures up to date and to develop an inmate classification system.

Among other things, the contract also requires that he develop a staffing and plan, recruitment plan, overtime monitoring plan, implement educational programs for inmates, maintain staff training, ensure medical needs are being met, implement inmate work programs and correct security deficiencies.

He will receive a $1,000 relocation allowance, 30 days of lodging expenses while he relocates, a county vehicle, 75 percent payment for his medical coverage and an annual $420 cell phone stipend, the contract states.