CONDITIONS AT DETENTION CENTER FAR FROM ‘DEPLORABLE’

CONDITIONS AT DETENTION CENTER FAR FROM ‘DEPLORABLE’

Media coverage of the Stephen Slevin verdict against Doña Ana County has painted an inaccurate picture of the conditions found in the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

The Doña Ana County Detention Center was opened in 1996. In 1999, the county received $2 million from the U.S. Marshal’s Service to partially fund a 290-bed expansion of the facility, bringing the total inmate capacity to 846. The detention center is not operated or supervised by the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department. It is a stand-alone department within the county government structure.

The cells and cellblocks throughout the facility are clean, well-lit and have windows for detainees to look out and for officers to observe the detainees. General-population day rooms are large common areas surrounded by cell units. Day rooms are equipped with televisions and game tables, where the detainees can play board games, cards, checkers and chess.

General population detainees have access to both indoor and outdoor recreation areas, and they can avail themselves to a number of educational and rehabilitative programs offered by the staff, contractors and volunteers.

The building has an independent medical wing, with full dental and acute-care capabilities. The detainees also have access to library books and a fully stocked commissary. Visitation is available five days a week.

The facility is inspected twice annually by members of the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners and regularly by the U.S, Marshal’s Service, which rents out up to 300 beds per night for federal detainees.

The food served at the Doña Ana County Detention Center is nutritionally balanced and is prepared in a state-certified kitchen. Each detainee gets a cold breakfast and two hot meals each day, with a daily caloric average of 3,000 per detainee.

In the specific case of Slevin, he was deemed a threat to himself upon intake to the detention center and was observed for three days in a special cell in the medical wing for his own protection. After his condition stabilized, he was kept in the medical wing for an additional three weeks for observation.

After that period, he was offered an opportunity to join the general population in a cell block with a day room. Slevin refused, and the only option after his refusal was to place him in one of the facility’s 28 administrative segregation cells.

For the next five months, records show that he regularly requested and received medical attention and commissary purchases. After that period, he stopped requesting those services. He frequently refused offers to leave his cell for recreation and exercise.

Slevin was in the facility for 22 months. No one on the Doña Ana County Detention Center management team had any authority to release him without a judge’s orders. His length of stay in the facility was entirely in the hands of the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office, his court-ordered defense attorney and the Third Judicial District Court.

The cell area in which he was housed was monitored by cameras and by officer patrols throughout each and every day that he was housed at the facility. In addition, medical rounds were conducted three times daily, and prescribed medications were dispensed to Slevin and other detainees.

The Doña Ana County Detention Center has historically faced significant challenges in terms of treating mentally ill detainees, but the challenges were consistently addressed throughout the time Slevin was incarcerated, and the efforts continue to this day.

The main problem all along has been recruiting and retaining mental-health professionals willing to work full-time in a detention environment. Throughout the United States, detention centers and jails face staffing challenges owing to the fact that few people – much less medical professionals – are willing to work in a jail environment, regardless of the competitiveness of the salary parameters.

Since he was hired as the detention director in late 2005, Chris Barela has tackled the issue head-on by hiring staff, contracting for services and negotiated the elimination of the employee union from the medical wing to facilitate easier and more interactive and adaptive management of that sector of the facility.

During former Medical Director Daniel Zemek’s tenure at the facility, he was recognized by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for his contributions to addressing mental health issues within the facility.
In 2007, Barela contracted for services in the medical wing to a licensed third-party provider whose personnel were better-suited to treating the mentally-ill population of the facility.

Slevin was in the Doña Ana County Detention Center on charges of aggravated DWI, driving on a suspended license, open container in the vehicle, multiple outstanding traffic violations and receiving or transferring stolen property. He had an extensive criminal history from other jurisdictions with multiple convictions on charges of both aggravated DWI and DWI, as well as multiple convictions for receiving stolen property, firearm infractions, possession of controlled substances, probation violations, robberies, burglaries and possession of burglary tools, criminal mischief and damage to property. He had previously served time in a Florida prison. His criminal history at the time of his arrest was 26 pages in length.

Doña Ana County is appealing the Slevin judgment and believes it has strong legal issues on which to base the appeal. In the meantime, it’s critical that the public, the family of detainees and the media understand that the conditions of the facility are constantly monitored for cleanliness and professional, humane treatment of each detainee.

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Reporters seeking more information or interviews: may call county Public Information Director Jess Williams at (575) 525-5801.