By Jack King
A Curry County Commissioner said he wants to further a statewide effort make the state pay county detention centers for housing state inmates.
“I would like to encourage counties statewide to pressure the state to pay counties for those incarcerations,” said Commissioner Ed Perales. “I’m concerned about Curry County, but I think it has to be a statewide effort.”
Curry County Manager Geneva Cooper told the county commission on May 20 that the costs of housing and caring for an increased number of prisoners at the Curry County Detention Center is a major cause of a projected county budget shortfall of between $200,000 and $400,000.
Detention Center Administrator Don Burdine said for the upcoming year he is asking for a budget increase for the detention center of approximately $300,000.
Increased mandatory sentencing for offenses like driving while intoxicated and domestic violence, as well as changes in the way state courts and probation officers remand prisoners to jail, have resulted in a growing number of medium- and low-security prisoners being sent to county detention centers. Even though the state fails to provide compensation for the prisoners, county jails cannot refuse to take them, Burdine said.
Perales said at a May 20 county commission meeting that he wants Burdine to invite him to every meeting Burdine attends of the New Mexico Association of Counties. He added that he wants to attend any other meetings where there is an opportunity to speak on the subject.
“Anytime there’s a meeting, I want to be there to make the case — we need to make the state bite the bullet,” he said.
“At one point I thought a civil action was the only way to get the state to act, but I think that’s up to the counties,” Perales said this week. “Right now, I’d just like to help unite counties statewide to go to the state. I’m sure this has been talked about before, but that’s why we need to push for more action.”
Sam Montoya, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties, said the burden of housing state prisoners is a problem for all New Mexico counties and a major concern of the association. He said an NMAC study found the cost to counties statewide of holding state probation and parole violators is $63 million a year.
An NMAC supported bill requesting that the New Mexico Department of Corrections reimburse counties for holding state probation violators, died in the State Senate’s Finance Committee during the 60-day session, Montoya said.
State Rep. Ken Montoya, D-Grants, who sponsored the bill, said it probably failed because of state spending priorities and the need to educate the legislature on the issue.
Lawrence Trujillo, deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, said part of the problem is that New Mexico has a limited amount of money to divide among detention agencies.
“I understand the counties are looking for a revenue stream and they’re trying to take it from Corrections. I have to look out for Corrections,” he said.
“And I have to protect the county,” Perales said Wednesday. “We all have to do our jobs, but I think the counties get way more unfunded mandates than any state-level agency.”