Curry County Manager Lance Pyle answered questions regarding the future of the jail and possible options for correcting deficiencies identified through an assessment dated Sept. 1. The assessment was conducted by a detention expert with the New Mexico Association of Counties.
The interview was conducted via e-mail. It has been edited for clarity and grammar.
Q: Do you feel the jail is secure?
A: I would ask you that question, with (the Clovis News Journal) releasing the report to the public in full disclosure. I feel that we have done everything possible given the time and funding available to improve the security at the facility. We have a long way to go in improving the facility, but this situation wasn’t created overnight and it’s going to take time, money and resources. This is a top priority of the county and will continue to be.
Q: What would you tell the public about the current status of the facility? Should they be concerned?
A: We are still in the process of hiring an administrator. I hoped to have this position filled and announced by Thanksgiving, but we are taking the needed time verifying references and conducting background checks. We are not going to fill a position just to be filling a position. I want to take time and make sure we get a candidate with the experience that can assist us in improving the facility and moving us forward.
Problems that several counties, including Curry County, has had in the past is that we fill a position to fill it, instead of doing our homework by recruiting and making sure we get the biggest benefit for our community.
I wish we could tell the public that all areas of the facility have been corrected, but that’s not true. I am very pleased with the progress that the county has made in making the facility more secure. We have some great employees; we have hired approximately 18 employees since the escape and I am very pleased with the caliber and dedication of these employees.
Q: Were you aware of any of the (security issues) before the report highlighted them?
A: I was aware of staffing, recruiting and retention issues, because that has been a problem for years at Curry County, but this is not an issue unique to Curry County. We have come a long way and we continue to improve in this area.
When I became county manager, detention officers were making $10.54 per hour and within six months the hourly rate was increased to $11.63 making the rate competitive with other similar size counties. In the past year, the county commission has approved eight additional detention employees and I will be recommending that each year additional detention officers are added based on the funds available. This has helped recruit and maintain detention officers.
I was aware of the training issues, but this was being addressed by the Detention Center Academy that started shortly after I became county manager and we will continue with training and refresher training of our officers.
I became aware of the camera issue and brought that to the county commission’s attention within a few month of being appointed county manager.
In February 2008 we started this process, brought consultants in, issued (a request for proposal) and recently the county commission approved the purchase and the contract at an amount of $165,244.36 for the adult facility. In October I put the camera upgrade for the juvenile facility ($65,212.37) on hold, because I felt those dollars could be better utilized at the adult facility.
The county has always had a Detention Center Committee, but in the past several years that committee was not meeting or addressing detention center issues. When I became county manager and become aware of some of these issues, the committee became a working committee and started meeting monthly, and some times during the year numerous times, during a month. This committee will meet at a minimum monthly until all issues are resolved, so in other words indefinitely.
Q: There was an assessment conducted at the jail around five years ago that the county contracted. Were any of the same issues identified then?
A: I am only aware that the assessment was conducted by Brandi Johnson with the Facility Group and I have not been able to locate a copy. Copies of the current assessment have been given to county commissioners, commissioners elect, county sheriff and detention management and we will meet and work towards the improvements. The jail committee, or others as needed, will meet and continue to address the issues that arise in these and future reports.
Q: Address some of the options regarding the jail, (building a new jail, repairing the old one, closing the jail altogether and sending inmates out of county, privatization).
A: We are addressing several of these concepts after the first of the year. I am planning to have a public workshop with the county commissioners to address the pros and cons of the above mentioned items, especially privatization. I have been told that the estimated cost to taxpayers to build a new detention facility would be approximately $20 million.
In addition we still owe $858,000 on the Detention Center Annex construction. A lot of issues will be addressed with Durrant from Phoenix, Ariz., which the county has contracted with to provide a security/physical plan evaluation, recommendations for upgrades to include schematic plans and outline specifications for any equipment, system, and/or products prioritized based on the security needs of the facility.
Q: What would the cost of a new jail be and how could it be funded?
A: As mentioned above, funding options would have to be determined by the county commission, but will have to include several options to obtain the funds. Some of the options available are grants, borrowing the funds, and increasing the property and gross receipts taxes. With the condition of the economy, receiving a grant or state appropriation is very slim.
The options available are borrowing the funds and increasing property or gross receipts taxes, which is a very difficult and not popular decision for the commission to make.
Q: How much are the total improvements expected to cost to correct the deficiencies identified in the report?
A: This is one of the purposes of Durrant’s assessment.
Q: What are the options to make the jail secure?
A: We have started addressing these issues and will continue. Curry County currently has approximately $5 million in cash reserves above the required 3/12th by Department of Finance Administration.
The county currently has several needs, for example about 1.5 million to complete the events center (with amenities).
I am not recommending emptying the county reserves; reserves are needed for a reason. A lot of these options will be addressed in the report from Durrant, but all financial expenditures will have to be approved by the Curry County Commission.
Q: How much did the jail cost to build, where did the money come from and is it paid for yet?
A: On Oct. 22, 1991, there was a special general obligation jail bond election, which the voters of Curry County approved the construction of the new detention center. The bond amount was $5 million. We currently owe $858,000 on the Detention Center Annex.
Q: How will you continue to monitor the security of the jail now that you’ve found out the flaws? Will there be continued inspections?
A: As mentioned above, the jail committee will meet, at a minimum, on a monthly basis to address the issues in the assessments and continue to review the progress and review the priority list.
We will recommend and request random shakedowns of the facility from area law enforcement and have periodic walk throughs by the sheriff’s new drug dog.
The county commission and I will conduct walkthroughs of the facility and request at least bi-annual inspections by the New Mexico Association of Counties and those will be reviewed, discussed and action will be taken as needed.
The detention center is currently updating policies, procedures and the post order for each station in the facility and detention center management will meet and review logs, etc., to make sure that the policies are being implemented and followed.