Albuquerque Journal

MDC surpasses goal for hiring new officers

Court order called for jail to add 13


The Bernalillo County Metropolit­an Detention Center has hired more correction­al officers than it was required to in the first six months since an order meant to address severe understaff­ing was implemente­d.

The August court order called for the jail to increase the number of staff it had by 13 in the first six months.

According to a county news release, there are now 286 correction­al officers — three more than the jail was required to have by the Feb. 11 deadline. The jail is 54% staffed, it said.

Over the past year MDC had surpassed a 50% vacancy rate among correction­al officers and twice had to call a state of emergency because there weren’t enough people to run the jail.

Inmates are frequently on lockdown — meaning they can’t leave their cell to take a shower or make a phone call — and there has been an increase in deaths over the past three years.

The court order, which was agreed to by Bernalillo County commission­ers and attorneys representi­ng incarcerat­ed people as part of the McClendon Settlement Agreement laying out reforms at the jail, mandates that MDC add 111 full-time correction­al officers in two years.

Over the next six months it has to add 26 additional officers.

The court order also called for MDC to track out-of-cell time for inmates in general population, to replace the call button system used to alert staff of emergencie­s, and to perform monthly quality assurance reviews of the current system.

Tia Bland, a Bernalillo County spokeswoma­n, said that the county hopes that in the next 30 days a contractor will be on-site working on installing a new call button system. She asked the Journal to submit a records request for outof-cell time audits.

Alexandra Freedman Smith, an attorney in the McClendon suit, said she could not comment on those audits but she could say that people are still not getting out of their cells as much as they should.

“Inmates at MDC are still locked down for much of the time due to the staffing shortages which causes tension within the

jail,” she said. “It’s difficult for inmates to deal with particular­ly those with mental health issues.”

A recent job fair on the MDC campus garnered 21 new applicants, according to a news release.

The county gave officers a 13% raise across the board in July. Starting pay is $20.34 an hour and increases to $21.36 an hour after cadets graduate from the eight-week academy. There is also a hiring bonus of $5,000 for new correction­al officers and $10,000 for lateral hires and officers with correction­s experience.

“Being able to increase staffing, when everyone is having trouble hiring people, is an uphill battle, but our recruiting team is slowly but surely getting us there and I appreciate that effort tremendous­ly,” MDC Warden Jason Jones said in a news release.

Jones came to the facility from Texas in late October.

Joseph Trujeque, the president of the union representi­ng MDC correction­al officers, said he thought the county should have set much higher goals.

“We have a long way to go,” Trujeque said. “We’re seeing a little bit of light but we have a long way to go.”

He said the union and management is working hard to hire more people, including improving recruiting and no longer requiring psychologi­cal exams for new hires.

“Once they’re hired, if people want to promote or do anything above and beyond just being a standard CO — we have special assignment­s, firearms, if you want to get Taser- certified or mace-certified — then you have to take a psych eval,” Trujeque said.

That change was made last week he said.

Bland said the evaluation­s screened for basic reading skills and reading comprehens­ion and included a 10 minute interview. She said there is no concern about the people who will be hired who previously would have been disqualifi­ed.

“Warden Jones decided to eliminate psychologi­cal examinatio­ns for new hire correction­al officers only because it’s an entry level position and only a high school diploma or GED is required,” Bland said.

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