ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - After years of overcrowding at Bernalillo County's Metro Detention Center the county now has just one week to meet a federal mandate to get the jail's population to capacity, something leaders say they’ll be able to do.
Bernalillo County says by Tuesday MDC should be back at its designed inmate capacity, meeting the final stipulation of an 18-year old lawsuit against the facility over living conditions inside. However, even if the county clears that hurdle, representatives say the work won't be over.
Since June, MDC has been working on moving inmates out of the Metro Detention Center into other jails in Sandoval and Torrance counties in New Mexico and one in Texas.
“Over the next few days, we'll have approximately 430 people in different institutions,” said Tom Swisstack, Deputy Public Safety Manager for Bernalillo County.
With only a week until a federal judge says it will fine the county if MDC over capacity, Swisstrack says things are looking up.
“I do feel confident that we will be able to be at our bed capacity come September 1st,” said Swisstack
Swisstack says by Tuesday, MDC will move an additional 113 inmates out of the facility which should bring the jail at, close to, or under its legal capacity of 2,236 inmates. However, the work may be far from over.
“The challenge is now trying to get the system to change so that we can maintain that without trying to invest $6.8 million every year,” said Swisstack.
That nearly $7 million is how much its costing the county to ship inmates out. Swisstack says with MDC at its legal capacity, county leaders now have to figure out who should be locked up.
“How do we let people back into the community that are maybe high needs and not high risk, that are mental health, that are substance abuse users, but really need services,” said Swisstack.
While he hopes a new New Mexico Legislature created “Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Review Commission” will work to come up with ideas to help the courts move faster, Swisstack says the county is cautious.
“This is not going to be overnight,” said Swisstack.
However, the hope is that solutions MDC’s overcrowding are finally coming.
“I'm always thinking what if, that our population should spike but that's where I am hoping the system itself will start to change,” said Swisstack.
If MDC is not at or under its legal capacity by September 1st, a federal judge is expected to fine Bernalillo County, but its unclear how large that fine could be, according to the county.
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