ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Counties across the state said they need more money to keep their jails running safely. They made their case to lawmakers on Monday asking for millions of dollars in state funds.
While the number of people in New Mexico’s county jails has gone down, the cost of housing them is going up. In a presentation to the legislative Courts, Corrections, and Justice Committee, the New Mexico Association of Counties said last fiscal year, counties collectively paid about $336 million to operate their jails. That is expected to jump to $383 million this fiscal year.
As part of their legislative priorities, the association is asking for $7.5 million for the Detention Reimbursement Fund, which reimburses a portion of the cost to house felony offenders who have been sentenced to confinement in state correctional facilities in county facilities. There are also other problems.
“More than half of our facilities with a more than 20% staff vacancy rate. That is something that is really concerning,” said General Counsel Grace Philips, with the New Mexico Association of Counties. She said that affects everything from safety in the facility, to the mental health and well-being of the employees, to programming for inmates.
“Our main concern is safety first and foremost of our detention officers, and right now, we have a number of facilities that are quite honestly very unsafe due to vacancy rates,” said Katherine Crociata, government relations for the New Mexico Association of Counties. The county is asking for $10 million to recruit more staff.
“We need to grow the pool. We don’t have enough people. We’re grabbing them from each other, and whether that’s county to county or county to the state, that’s an issue,” said Philips.
The association also wants $750,000 to reimburse counties for providing transport for state prisoners. Crociata said that money is authorized but has never been funded.
The New Mexico Association of Counties also said they’re requesting more money for improvements to courthouses. They also want to increase the salary cap for newly elected officials by 15%. They said the cap was last amended in 2018, and 14 counties are currently at the salary limit.