CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Lt. Holly MIttlemark talks with an inmate at the Curry County Adult Detention Center Thursday afternoon. Communicating with the inmates on a regular bases is critical to maintaining control of the jail according to Interim Administrator Carlos Ortiz.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Interim jail administrator Carlos Ortiz has decided to throw his hat in the ring for the position of Curry County Adult Detention Center administrator.
The job was posted Monday to candidates nationwide.
“People in the community are asking me to stay here and so is my staff so I’m going to try to stay,” Ortiz said Thursday.
“Between (my staff) and what I’m hearing in the community, I think I’m going to try to stay.
Ortiz, a Texas native who previously served as chief of security for the facility, took command in September after then-administrator Lois Bean was fired.
Since the position was posted there have been numerous inquires and requests for applications, said Denise Stewart, county personnel manager.
Stewart said she has mailed a handful of applications out, the furthest distance being Texas, and has directed others to the county’s Web site, where the application is posted.
As of yet, Stewart said she hasn’t received any applications.
The position will remain open until Dec. 4.
County commissioners increased the salary range for the position Tuesday in the hopes of attracting high-caliber applicants.
When he was appointed to the position, Ortiz, a 20-year veteran of corrections work, vowed to turn the troubled facility around in two months.
Inmate escapes — most notably the Aug. 8, 2008, escape of eight violent inmates — mistaken releases, assaults and arrests of detention officers have plagued the jail for years.
Capt. James Hood, said the facility has turned around under the leadership of Ortiz.
“It has been a drastic change since I first came here,” he said.
Hood said a new discipline system involving privileges and consequences is being implemented and inmates are busy cleaning the jail.
Cleaning is an integral part of a good environment, Ortiz said.
“If your environment around you is clean, you tend to act better,” he said, adding it gives inmates something to contribute and to burn off energy.
“In the past all they’ve done is just sit in their living areas for 24 hours a day,” he said.
Increasing staff, training and clear policies and procedures have helped, he said.
Other policy changes include the implementation of a grievance system for inmates and their families, continual interaction with the inmates and mandatory rounds through the pods.
“Now that we talk to them, they understand that it goes both ways,” Ortiz said. “That’s why we’ve seen such a quick turnaround, because we’re actually involved.”
Detention Officer Patrina Rodriguez, a seven-year veteran of the jail, said she feels like for the first time in a long time all the supervisors have clear knowledge of what is going on with the facility.
“I feel that our supervisors are all on the same page,” she said. “Everybody seems to know what the plan is.”
Inmates, too, said they have seen changes for the better.
“He’s (Ortiz) not scared to come in the pods and talk to us,” one male inmate in the violent offender pod said, while on the other side of the room, Ortiz spoke with a group of inmates concerned about their meal portions.
“It’s better than it ever has been,” Detention Officer Shaun Jones said, standing outside the pod.
Jones, who has been employed at the jail for two months, said his ability to perform his job and confidence in the safety of the facility have increased because of the changes.
“You couldn’t talk to these guys before,” he said of the inmates.
“They ran this jail.”
After 10 years at the jail, Detention Officer Robert Williams said he has been through “change of administration after change of administration.”
Williams said he believes the increase in staff and order at the facility has made it easier to do his job.
“I truly like the idea of the officers taking back over this facility. The inmates have been running it for too long,” he said.