County makes jail smoke free once more

By Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent

The Curry County Adult Dentition Center will once again be smoke free.

The County Commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that will return the county jail to a non-smoking building within 90 days. The jail facility is the only county building that is not smoke free.

Curry County officials cited health and safety concerns as the primary reasons for the change.

The health issues revolve around second-hand smoke, according to jail administrator Don Burdine.

County Manager Dick Smith, who said the Curry County jail is one of only “two or three” left in New Mexico that allow smoking, added that there were other reasons to re-institute the ban.

“Everything from burning tissue paper to contraband — it’s a very easy way to sneak in contraband,” Smith said. “When you look at the damage to the jail caused by smoking and by the ability to have matches in the jail, the cost of (allowing) it is just too much.”

The detention was made smoke-free in 1994, but that ended a little more than two years ago when Burdine waived the policy in an effort to reduce tension among prisoners.

“I asked for them to allow smoking because of a lack of staff,” Burdine recalled. “Staffing was down seven to nine officers. We had a hard time getting positions filled. The non-smoking does raise the tension levels of the inmate population.

“You take an individual, like 90 percent of our (prison) population, who has a substance-abuse problem — whether it’s alcohol, drugs or whatever, and they also smoke,” Burdine added. “You take everything away from them and then lock them in a confined area with 20 to 30 other people, you are going to have a heightened tension level.”

Smith and Burdine also asked that future decisions to change the smoking policy be turned over to the commission.

“I really would look at us not flip-flopping any more on this issue,” Smith said. “I think once we make a decision, we need to stay with that unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary.”

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Burdine said. “But it’s something we feel like we have to do.”

The Commission also approved policies and procedures pertaining to the Community Custody Program, which will allow non-violent inmates to return to the community and be tracked electronically from their home.

District, magistrate and municipal court judges have reviewed the program, Smith said, and the commission will now send out a request for proposal to contractors that do this kind of work. Smith expects the program to begin by about May.

Eligibility will be based on the severity of the crime committed, having a job, being in school or doing community service.

Inmates in the program will also be subjected to random drug testing.

Officials estimated about 30 of the county’s 300 inmates would be eligible for the program designed to battle overcrowding.

Meetings watch:
Curry County Commission

Other action taken
• County treasurer Rhonda Bookout received permission from the commission to levy additional fees on property tax checks that are drawn from an account with insufficient funds. The additional fee will be $25 per check or equivalent to the amount that the particular bank involved charges for overdrafts — whichever is greater.

Commissioners approved future funding for Elections Systems and Software, despite a demonstrable lack of confidence by some who help administer election results. Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron has mandated that all counties use the ES&S system. “We hate it, it’s very cumbersome. It’s a pain in the backside,” said Coni Jo Lyman, deputy county clerk.

• Broadview fire chief Tommy Lofton received permission to enlarge his department’s boundaries to include the area covered by the Rosedale substation — from 120 square miles to 210 square miles. “Some people cannot get insurance because they are not in an official fire district,” Lofton said. “So this will help some people.”

• Curry County Fair board secretary Peggy Burns reported that Murphy Brothers Exposition is looking into hosting a carnival in April at the fairgrounds. Members of that company will be visiting Clovis later this week to see if their midway rides can be accommodated. However the county commission, at the recommendation of Burns, voted unanimously to accept a bid for midway services from another organization, Wright’s Amusements, for the county fair in August.

• County administrator Lance Pyle informed the commission that applications for indigent funds are now available in English and Spanish.