Commissioners’ solution to MDC staffing shortage faces backlash

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Bernalillo County Commission approved an order earlier this week to address low staffing and other issues inside the Metropolitan Detention Center. But the same people the order is supposed to help, are now saying the action is not nearly enough.

“It’s getting to be beyond frustrating for everyone, inmates included,” said Joseph Trujeque, the president of Local 2499, the Corrections Officers Association. “I mean they’re paying an ultimate price as well as the officers. It’s insulting. And I think it’s insulting to every officer that works at MDC.”

One of the goals is to hire thirteen full time officers in six months, and a total of 111 over two years.

“We’ve had ten officers quit in the last three weeks. How’s thirteen officers going to make a difference in six months?” asked Trujeque.

The order also implements rules for tracking the time inmates are out of their cells, and improving cell call buttons.

“We don’t have staff to answer the call buttons,” said Trujeque. “And what are they going to track? They’re going to track that inmates aren’t coming out of their cells. What are we going do about it? We don’t have the staff to get them out of their cells.”

Others shared the same type of concerned thoughts during the commission’s public comment period Tuesday night, including a sergeant at MDC.

“We no longer can provide a safe and secure environment,” said the sergeant. “People are suffering to a level of cruel and unusual punishment. People who are at high risk of dying due to detox or risk of suicide go without being watched. The solution we have been presented with is work more. We don’t have time to metabolize stress from day to day trauma, we go home, and just go right back to work.”

New Mexico’s chief public defender also spoke up about conditions.

“Last week I made the difficult decision to instruct our attorneys and staff not to visit clients in the detention center because of concerns about their safety while they’re there,” said Bennett Baur. “This is an unprecedented situation, I don’t think anybody would’ve foreseen two years ago. Ultimately as a community we need to make sure MDC only holds as many persons as it can ethically and humanely hold.”

Commissioner Walt Benson has his own concerns about current government priorities.

“People forget about the jail,” said Benson. “I mean that’s where the criminals go. And if we don’t have the staff to house them or it’s not safe inside the jail, then that’s where we get where we’re at now which is in a state of emergency.”

Union reps and Commissioner Benson mentioned the fact that pay raises and better recruitment have to take priority if they want to see progress.

“Not only do we need to raise the wages to be competitive within our field, then we need to advertise that and we need to get the word out,” said Trujeque.

Bernalillo County reps shared a statement with KOB 4 in response to the union’s statements:

“County Manager Julie Morgas Baca, MDC Chief Greg Richardson and the union will be meeting soon to work together on a plan to address MDC’s staffing shortage. It’s a challenging situation that the manager and county commissioners are committed to addressing.”

That same rep said the meeting is “probably next week.”