ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Attorneys say efforts to relieve overcrowding at the Metropolitan Detention Center are making an already slow criminal justice system even slower.
Hundreds of inmates have been moved to other jails far away from Albuquerque.
As a result, many victims' families could wait longer to get justice.
Hundreds of inmates still awaiting trial are being held as far as Polk County, Texas, north of Houston.
While MDC and the courts are working together to get them moving through the system, both agree it is a painful process.
MDC says more than 80 percent of its inmates who were transferred to a Polk County jail in Texas are still awaiting trial.
For some, that means traveling 13 hours for a court date in Albuquerque.
MDC Chief Ramon Rustin says there is no other option.
“We don't have enough sentenced folks to transfer and still be in compliance with the federal court order,” Chief Rustin said.
So, he said the jail is trying to choose inmates whose cases aren't moving along for transfer. But that is not always what is happening.
The attorney for a murder suspect raised the issue in court Wednesday.
“My concern is that Mr. Chavez is now in Polk County, as 75 percent of my clients are in Polk County,” said Cynthia Leos, a public defender. “That is a 20-hour trip each way. He came out here 20 hours. From what I'm hearing from my clients, it is just an atrocious 20 hours.”
Attorneys say the distance makes these cases unworkable — slowing down the judicial process.
“When you put someone with an active case in a place where they have no access to their family, no access to their attorneys and where their attorneys have no way to discuss the case with them in person in a confidential way, the court system simply cannot function the way it's supposed to,” said Acting Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur.
Baur said there have even been some cases where inmates were ready for release but not transported, which means more jail time and more cost to taxpayers.
The MDC chief said he is hoping to set up video conferencing for inmates in Polk County so they can better communicate with their attorneys in Albuquerque.
MDC said it is averaging $35,000 to $40,000 a day on out-of-county costs.
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