County officials consider jail option

By Mike Linn

Area county officials are entertaining the idea of funding a 2,000-bed jail that would house criminals from Logan to Lingo.
Curry County Commission Chairman Tim Ashley is spearheading the idea, which he describes as a four-county cooperative to house criminals from Roosevelt, Curry, Quay and De Baca counties at a central location near Melrose.
Curry and Roosevelt County officials discussed the idea during a recent brainstorming session in an effort to curb the growing problem of overcrowded jails.
“I would say we’re opening the discussion toward this,” Ashley said. “This is extremely preliminary; really all we want to do is open the door for conversation. We’re just addressing the fact that we all have a common problem (jail overcrowding).”
But Roosevelt County officials feel the plan would cause confusion between the four counties.
“I don’t think that’s the solution to be honest,” Roosevelt County Administrator Charline Hardin said.
Roosevelt County Commission Chairman Chad Davis on Tuesday said: “The kicker in this is if you get four counties using one facility and trying to maintain and operate it turns into a quagmire of paperwork.”
Ashley said new computer technology makes it easy to keep track of paperwork.
Both Curry and Roosevelt County inmates have recently traveled to the Dickens County, Texas, jail (near Lubbock) because both eastern New Mexico detention centers are over capacity.
Curry County is about 70 inmates over its 200-inmate capacity and Roosevelt County’s facility has been between capacity and roughly 20 over for the past five months, officials said.
De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves said the 18-bed jail there is typically at capacity or a handful of inmates over.
Ashley said the number of Curry inmates has almost doubled in the 2 1/2 years he’s been a commissioner.
“All counties in New Mexico are battling with the same problem of this sudden boom of inmate population,” Ashley said. “They’re taking in more people than they can house, which is pretty costly to the budget.”
Ashley said Curry County commissioners had to increase the detention center budget by approximately $600,000 this fiscal year, and Roosevelt County officials said they shelled out $26,000 in September to house prisoners in Dickens County.
The cost to build a 2,000-bed facility is roughly $30 million, Ashley estimated. Ashley hopes that money would come from county bond elections, state funding and county funds.
One of the benefits of a four-county detention center is the ability to house prisoners from other counties in New Mexico and Texas, and thus make money, Ashley said.
Stiffer laws related to driving under the influence and counties having to house state prisoners for 364 days are a few reasons for the rise in inmates, Ashley said.