RESPONSE TO DORA HARP’S GUEST COLUMN IN THE APRIL 09 SUN-NEWS

RESPONSE TO DORA HARP’S GUEST COLUMN IN THE APRIL 09 SUN-NEWS

Dora Harp’s guest column in the April 9 edition of the Sun-News contains several factual errors and implications, all of which must be corrected.

To address Mrs. Harp’s concerns.

1. Safety of the juveniles: Mrs. Harp is fully aware that for the past two years, juveniles have been and currently are housed within the Adult Detention Center, where they are segregated by sight and sound from the adult population. Building a new 50-bed facility for juveniles on the same county-owned land is a prudent fiscal and operational decision. The new facility will place juveniles in a separate building, thereby insulating them even further from the adult population. In the highly unlikely event of a riot, as Mrs. Harp suggests, the juvenile facility would be immediately secured and protected from any incursion by the adult inmates. This assumes, of course, that rioting inmates in one secure facility would even want access to another secure facility, an issue which would be of concern regardless of whether the juveniles are housed a short distance from the adult state prison on the West Mesa or in a separate building on the grounds of the county detention center on Copper Loop.

2. Security breaches and facility design: Mrs. Harp speculates that moving laundry and food between the two facilities will pose a security risk. The fact is that sufficient security checkpoints are already in place to keep this from occurring. The kitchen facility in the adult detention center can handle up to 1,000 servings per meal at its current design, which more than accommodates the inclusion of the juvenile facility. Mrs. Harp’s fretting about security and facility design is unwarranted.

3. Management of the facility: Mrs. Harp is concerned that employees from the adult and juvenile facilities will be switching shifts back and forth. Not to worry. As is presently the case, all the staff for the juvenile facility will be properly trained and scheduled. Management of the facility will comply with all state laws and security will exceed state minimums.

4. Room for expansion: Mrs. Harp worries that the future has not been considered. In fact, the detention facility sits on 19 acres of county-owned land. After expansion of the adult facility is completed and the juvenile site is constructed, the architects (and common sense) assure us that there is “more than adequate room” for expansion of either (or both) facilities as needed down the line. In fact, our surveys indicate that adequate room exists to build up to 100 additional juvenile beds in the future, if they are deemed necessary.

5. State law: Mrs. Harp is correct in asserting that New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid has declared that a “gray area” exists in state law which has put a crimp on the original county plans to co-locate a pre-adjudication county juvenile detention center with a post-adjudication state juvenile detention facility on the West Mesa. This issue was raised by juvenile advocates at the state level, prompting the Legislative Finance Committee to seek the attorney general’s opinion. The ambiguity in the law pertains only to co-locating pre- and post-adjudicated juveniles. Nowhere in the law is there any language that would keep the county from housing its pre-adjudicated juveniles in a secure facility that is located near the adult detention center. Still, the attorney general’s opinion effectively brought a halt to the state and county’s evolving partnership, forcing both parties to forge ahead and get moving on secure sites to house their respective juvenile detainees. Time is of the essence: the county continues to grow and the issue of how to deal with juveniles remains critical for both entities.

Rather than spending time and money to drag the issue through the courts and hope for a favorable ruling, both the state and the county have set aside the co-location idea and are moving forward independently to address a current, pressing problem. In the meantime, individuals involved in planning the new juvenile facility include the county children’s court judges and representatives from the offices of the district attorney, the public defender, juvenile probation authorities, the public schools and the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families. The county is far from acting alone.

I’d like to invite any resident who would like to know the real facts about the way this project is proceeding to attend the Board of County Commissioners’ April 13 meeting, when Secretary Deborah Hartz of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department will address plans for a long-term juvenile secure facility, and the county’s contracted architects for the juvenile detention project will make a presentation on program development and design.

Respectfully submitted –

Jess Williams
Public Information Officer