ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A Bernalillo County commissioner who helped shoot down a possible solution to chronic overcrowding at the jail wants pressure on prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges to keep inmates moving.
On Tuesday night commissioners deadlocked on a proposal to spend millions to send inmates to other jails. County Commissioner Wayne Johnson voted against that proposal saying spending tax dollars to house inmates in other counties is not the solution.
Johnson said the real problem is too many inmates are getting to ride out what should be their prison sentence inside the Metropolitan Detention Center.
"They should be off in state Corrections,"Johnson said. "They should be off at a state facility, not at our facility."
Johnson said the pressure to get them out should be on the court system.
"They need to be able to move their case through so that their throughput at the jail is quicker," Johnson said.
Johnson said he learned most people accused of a felony spend about 10 months at MDC before accepting a plea deal and walking out.
"Ninety-eight percent of those plead out at the end of the nine to 10 months," Johnson said.
One example is former inmate Fermín Saavedra. A plea deal for a kidnapping charge at gunpoint came a year and a half after Saavedra entered MDC.
Time he served at the jail took care of his prison sentence. He was eventually let out on house arrest.
"What they're doing is shifting the burden from the state, which should be responsible for felons, to the county," Johnson said.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said her office often knows if a plea deal will be offered months after the case hits her desk. However, she said getting it accepted is not that easy when dealing with competency questions and defense attorneys asking for continuances.
She said there are also other factors that come into play.
"We have issues with forensic testing, defense attorneys change, assistant DAs change, judges change," Brandenburg said.
Johnson even suggested, for some cases, the DA offer a final plea deal three months after the inmate is booked into MDC to put pressure on defense attorney's to move cases through.
Brandenburg said that would send more cases to trial and clog the jails even more.
For now, there is no word on another commission vote on the plan to parcel out inmates.
However, federal judges have ordered the county to fix the problem, and if it's not, they may order inmate transfers or some other solution.
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