Escape prompts jail contract revisions

By Christina Calloway
Senior writer
ccalloway@pntonline.com

Roosevelt County jail administrator David Casanova plans to present revised inmate housing contracts with several New Mexico counties today to county commissioners following the July 2 escape of an inmate during work detail.
Casanova declined to specify what the revisions of the contract might be.

Roosevelt County commissioners have said they will wait until the investigation into the escape of murder suspect Senovio Mendoza Jr. is complete before commenting on the situation or taking any action.
Roosevelt County officials say they were unaware Mendoza was a murder suspect when he was transferred from Eddy County to their jail in March. They say Eddy County officials neglected to disclose the information.

Eddy County Interim Warden Mike Ingram says he supplied the correct documentation for all Eddy County inmates sent to the Portales lockup.
Casanova said the lack of information was why he reclassified Mendoza’s inmate status from maximum security to medium security, which made him eligible for a work detail program.

Casanova has said neither he nor his staff have conducted background checks on inmates sent to them from other counties, but has said that is one of the issues he plans to fix.
Roosevelt County charges Eddy County $65 per day, per inmate, for housing and related services. The Roosevelt jail routinely houses inmates from other New Mexico counties, including Curry County.

All 27 Eddy County inmates in Roosevelt County’s jail were sent back to Eddy County after the escape, including Mendoza, who was recaptured within hours.
Casanova maintains Eddy County officials broke the agreement they share to house inmates in his jail when they sent Mendoza because he was not a sentenced inmate.

The housing contract between the two says “Eddy County prisoners will not be allowed to participate in work release programs,” but Casanova said “work release” as interpreted in the contract is in regard to inmates who leave the facilities to go to a job, get paid, and return to stay in the jail. Casanova said no such program exists at the Portales jail and inmates are only permitted to work under supervision.
Roosevelt County’s agreement with Eddy County is nearly identical to the one it has with Curry County.

Records show, covering the period of March 1 to July 1, that four of the five Curry County inmates being housed in Roosevelt County are awaiting trial, meaning they are not sentenced.
Though Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb has said Eddy County broke the contract by providing non-sentenced inmates, she declined comment on whether Curry County had done the same.

Curry County Detention Center Administrator Tori Sandoval said Roosevelt County officials have never enforced that rule.
“Usually when we call (Roosevelt County’s jail), they’ll ask us for their booking sheet and we send them down to them prior to sending the person going down there,” Sandoval said.