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New Mexico: More on MTC's troubles.

Corrections Secretary 'not Pleased' With Jail Audit
By JULIE ANN GRIMM | The New Mexican
Saturday, July 12, 2003

Corrections secretary said county jail's problems do not pose a threat to the public. The state corrections secretary is threatening to pull out of a contract with Santa Fe County because of security concerns at the county jail.

The agency surprised the jail operator, Management and Training Corp., with an unplanned audit this week to check on conditions of the 145 state inmates housed there.

"I was not pleased with what we found," Corrections Secretary Joe Williams said Friday.

Inadequate staffing, record-keeping and handling of inmates' property were among the most serious concerns raised in an 18-page audit from Wednesday's visit by a team of corrections department employees.

Although Williams said the problems do not pose a threat to the community, he wants MTC to develop and follow "good, sound policies and procedures" or face losing state inmates.

Williams appointed a department employee to monitor the jail for compliance with its contract to house state inmates and ordered another audit in 30 days. If the problems are not fixed, Williams said he would consider terminating the contract with the county.

The state pays the county a daily rate for each inmate housed at the jail. Without the state revenue, the jail's precarious financial situation could worsen, county officials said.

County Sheriff Greg Solano vowed to personally make sure the issues are addressed.

"I am not going to accept 'no' for an answer on any of these issues," Solano said.

The sheriff met with Warden Steve Hargett to make sure the company understands the county "is going to hold their feet to the fire," he said.

The audit was prompted by concerns about the way the Utah-based corporation is running its only other facility in New Mexico, the McKinley County Detention Center.

Police are trying to capture the last of four inmates who escaped from the prison near Gallup on Independence Day and were not missed for three hours. Three escapees were caught, but 18 year-old Eric Leyba, who was being held on a murder charge, is still at large.

"In light of the McKinley County incident, I wanted to ensure that we did not have the same problems at the Santa Fe County jail," Williams said.

MTC fired McKinley County Warden Cody Graham and a corrections officer for "administrative lapses in judgment" related to the escape, a company spokesman said.

Graham had been warden of the Santa Fe jail until company officials transferred him to McKinley County. Graham's move came this spring shortly after the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on conditions at the Santa Fe jail.

MTC and Santa Fe County officials are negotiating with the federal agency on needed changes at the jail, according to county jail monitor Greg Parrish.

After the justice-department report, federal inmates were pulled from the facility. County Commissioner Mike Anaya said losing the state inmates as well would be bad news for the county.

"I hope they don't pull them out because that is another drain on us," Anaya said.

Commission Chairman Jack Sullivan said there might be an underlying moral to the story: The Santa Fe County facility is a jail, meaning most inmates are waiting for court appearances. It's not meant to be a long-term holding facility for state offenders, he said.

"The bottom line might be that state prisoners should stay in state prisons and we can't have them in jails," he said.

Some of the problems identified by the state have to do with the essential difference between a jail and a prison, he said.

For example, the state wants the county to build a second fence around the jail's perimeter.

"That is a requirement for a prison, but not for a jail," Sullivan said.

While county commissioners don't claim to be corrections experts, they informally discussed taking over jail operations if necessary. Solano has been a longtime advocate of that plan.

"It is my gut reaction that we should take it over," he said, noting that he wants to look at the economics of such a move before making any recommendations to the County Commission.

The county's contract with MTC does not expire until October 2004, but it could decide to terminate the agreement after this October if it is not satisfied with the jail operations.

Solano said action might come sooner if the county decided to file a lawsuit against the company for not living up to the contract.

MTC is not looking that far down the road, according to Maj. David Osuna, the second in command at the county jail.

"We have no problem with them putting us on notice," Osuna said. "We are certain that every issue will be taken care of within the 30 days."

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