Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center reaches full capacity amid staffing concerns
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the first time, Bernalillo County officials say their Juvenile Detention Center is full. This comes weeks after an hourslong disturbance on Christmas Day.
County leaders say this is new territory for them and they can’t accept any new juveniles. They also told KOB 4 that the disturbance last month was the first time something like that had happened since the center opened more than 50 years ago.
Deputy County Manager Greg Perez says even if they had more beds it wouldn’t make a difference because they are concerned about the ratio of officers to incarcerated teens.
“It’s not really a space constraint right now, more so a staffing constraint,” Perez said.
The detention center is at capacity with 63 teens – with about 22 of them charged with higher levels of crime like homicides.
“You can build a million different rooms onto the facility it comes down to the safety of the residents that are in there, and the safety of the officers that work there every day,” Perez said.
The space in the center is separated into what the county calls “pods.” Right now, two pods are under construction and are expected to be available within a month to a month and a half.
Perez says that even if those pods were open, it wouldn’t make a difference.
“It’s based off of a ratio of residents to officers,” Perez said. “Eight to one is the ratio in the daytime or waking hours. During sleeping time that capacity changes, or that ratio changes to 16 to one. But right now, 63 is the magic number for us. Once we hit 63, we can no longer adhere to the capacity and ratio number.”
That ratio is especially top of mind after a “major disturbance” on Christmas Day. Footage from the center shows more than a dozen teens pushing furniture in front of the entrance and yelling at law enforcement.
Right now, three teens involved in that incident are facing charges. The pod they were in was damaged, but has since reopened.
Perez says county leaders have notified law enforcement like Albuquerque police and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office that they can’t accept any new teens right now.
“We were established as a detention facility and we’re becoming more of a corrections facility, because youth are staying in our facility for greater than eight months, which, again, the intent was that we were a short-time holding facility until they were adjudicated and sentenced, and then they would move elsewhere,” Perez said. “So that’s part of what’s happening in the backlog on the court side. And until that clears, we can’t bring anyone else in.”
Perez told KOB 4 that six new officers are in the academy and another five just got hired, but they have to hire about 20 to 30 more officers. Right now they’re at 48% in terms of staffing.
Bernalillo County is holding a rapid-hire event on Saturday, Feb. 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Juvenile Detention Center.
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