County jail seeks renovations

Mike Linn

Excessive problems with the Roosevelt County Detention Center, such as periodic overcrowding, have prompted county officials to seek vast renovations to the 15-year-old jail facility.
Roosevelt County officials on Tuesday hired NCA Architects from Albuquerque to study the possibility of either expanding the current facility or replacing it altogether.
“It’s really a lengthy situation, and there are several things that are wrong with it,” RCDC administrator Jesse Luera said. “From what I’ve gathered, it has been a problem from day one because they initially started with one design and then they changed it.”
Among the problems, Luera said, are blind spots that hamper detention officers’ ability to keep visual contact of inmates.
Other complications include the potential for overcrowding in the 58-bed facility and jail cell locks that are either outdated or non-functional in some capacity.
As a temporary fix, the county has adopted an agreement with the Parmer County Detention Center to house prisoners. But Luera said the agreement isn’t cost-effective because travel expenses and travel time eat up funds.
To limit short-term expenses, jail expansion seems to be the best approach, but there are long-term benefits to building a new facility, several architects told Roosevelt County commissioners this week.
“It would obviously be cheaper to add on and extend the old jail rather than building a brand new jail,” NCA architect Bob Calvani said.
However, Calvani said he could not deliver a price range for either renovations or a new jail.
Architects with Wilson and Company, the county’s second selection, said a new design could cost $4.6 million, while additions to the current facility would run between $1.7 and $2.8 million.
The catch, Wilson architects say, is the county will pay more money in the long run due to extra staffing that would be needed for the new extension of the jail. A new jail, they say, can be designed in such a way to minimize staffing, where less employees would be needed to watch prisoners.
If the county decides on a new detention center, the old jail could be used for office space or a juvenile detention center, something that could yield more money for the county because juveniles are currently transported to Tucumcari, according to Wilson architects.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Dennis Lopez said the benefits of long-term investment are what counts.
To recoup monies allocated for the jail, county officials may seek a contract to house federal prisoners.
How much money a contract with the federal government would yield varies with each contract, county administrator Charlene Hardin said.
Bob Montoya, a former prison administrator with the New Mexico Department of Corrections who now works for Wilson and Company, described the Roosevelt County Detention Center as a “security nightmare” and added that no matter what route commissioners decide to take, a change of some sort is necessary.