Commissioner wants jail bills sent to state

Jack King

A Curry County Commissioner has called on counties statewide to start billing the state Department of Corrections for the counties’ expenses in housing state prisoners.
Curry County Commission Chairman Tim Ashley proposed billing the state department during a meeting of the New Mexico Association of Counties last week in Gallup.
The NMAC’s board of directors approved a resolution recommending the action and the association will send a letter to county managers statewide informing them of the resolution, NMAC executive director Samuel Montoya said Tuesday.
The department currently does not pay counties for all state prisoners they house and, according to the New Mexico Association of Counties, it is costing counties statewide about $63.5 million a year.
In Curry County, officials have said the cost of housing prisoners is a major reason for a county budget shortfall.
“I suggested billing the state for three reasons,” Ashley said, “First, my ultimate goal is to generate revenue for inmates that are a burden on our budget. Second, especially if all the counties in the state start invoicing the state, we’ll have figures to support our claim about what housing the prisoners is costing us. Finally, billing the state could help establish a legal basis we might use to make a claim leading up to a lawsuit.”
Roosevelt County Detention Center Jesse Luera called the billing idea “absolutely correct.”
“That’s what’s going to happen here. Come July 1, we’re going to start doing that,” he said.
Luera said housing state prisoners also is a “major problem” for Roosevelt County and that a major portion of the medium- and low-security prisoners in the county’s detention center are state probation and parole violators.
Luera said housing and caring for a prisoner costs Roosevelt County $45 to $50 a day.
New Mexico Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tia Bland said state statutes do not require the department to pay counties for probation violators, even if they are on probation for a state-level offense.
“Per state statute, it’s our current belief we are only responsible for paying incarceration rates for parole violators, and we have a $1 million budget for that. As far as probation violators are concerned, we feel they are under the courts’ jurisdiction until they are sentenced to the New Mexico Department of Corrections,” she said.