BERNALILLO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Nearly eight months after Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center declared a state of emergency over staffing, things are finally improving. “Just since the early summer we were at a 46% staff capacity and we’re up to 54%. That’s an 8% jump in less than half a year. That’s fantastic. If we can keep up with that kind of growth, will be great,” Larry Gallegos, the Communications Specialist for Bernalillo County said.

While staffing of corrections officers and other jobs has long been a problem at the facility, in June of last year, it got to a critical point when the vacancies outnumbered the filled positions. Gallegos says between staff members leaving and officers out sick during the peak of COVID, there wasn’t enough staff to properly look after all the inmates. “It’s hard to keep [a] full staff across the board, not just at MDC. It’s a tough job and people can burn out if they’re not careful,” Gallegos says.

A month after that state of emergency, officials started making moves to address the problems. The County Commission voted for 13% pay raises for most correction officers, plus hefty sign-on bonuses – up to $10,000 based on experience. “It’s kept some of the retention of some of our older guards. All of a sudden they saw a bump in pay and said hey, ‘I’ll stay on a little longer,'” says Gallegos.

The jail held a hiring event this weekend bringing in 21 new corrections officers. “If they could do that every time they had a job fair, it will help our numbers tremendously,” says Gallegos.

Because they’re hiring more people, MDC has added more academy classes. But although things are moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Plenty of positions still need to be filled. Gallegos adds, “Will we ever get to 100%? I don’t know a jail out there who is, but we’re going to sure do our best to get as close to full capacity on correctional officers as we can.”