Monday, April 23, 2012
Fund it and a solution will come. That’s the model that Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque before them have used to solve the very real population problem at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Unfortunately, appropriating funding for an incomplete or non-existent plan hasn’t lead to an effective solution – and that’s exactly what Deputy County Manager Tom Swisstack would have the Bernalillo County Commission do at the next meeting.
Alternatives to Incarceration – that’s the name that Mr. Swisstack calls his “plan.” Sounds good no? The problem is that other than a draft pre-trial services proposal prepared by the District Court, there is no plan.
Bernalillo County asked for $5 million to build the “Alternatives to Incarceration” headquarters at the old downtown jail. Was there a plan? No. Fortunately, we didn’t get the appropriation. Not because it wouldn’t have been spent – it would have – but because it would have created a whole set of programs whose efficacy would have been nebulous but whose on-going costs would have been very real indeed.
Now the Commission is being asked for $1.5 million for “Alternatives to Incarceration: Pre-Trial Services.” Other than a draft proposal from District Court, this “plan” is a title and a blank page.
Felony Pre-Trial Services inmates make up 40% of the population at MDC making it the first issue to address. But the proposal that we are being asked to fund would use $1.5 million for high risk/high needs inmates. Let me say that again – high risk. While it may be possible to manage these inmates, it’s not the group that you want to start with and certainly not a group that the public will be comfortable mingling with.
It would be better to start with the low to medium risk populations which cost around $2.50 a day to manage as opposed to almost $13 a day for high risk inmates. Not to mention the fact that high risk/high needs inmates are by definition, well… high risk. All of which makes me wonder whether Mr. Swisstack has read the proposal that he would have the Commission blindly fund.
So how does this fit with a proposal to transfer management to the Sheriff’s office and why should it be considered? The simple answer is… politics.
It’s politics that creates a scheme to build a $5 million “Alternatives to Incarceration” facility out of an old jail. It’s politics that creates a $1.5 million request for a draft proposal. And it’s politics that leads a Commissioner to place a last minute, hidden item on a Commission agenda.
Commissioner Stebbins apparently feels that despite the failings of the current management, we need to continue on course. I disagree. We’ve been down this path before and the result was and is an over-crowded jail.
Fortunately, Mr. Swisstack hired a very competent Chief of Corrections to run MDC. Chief Rustin came from Allegheny County and has faced these challenges before. More importantly, he and his staff at MDC created a detailed 300 page plan designed to address all of the aspects of MDC’s population problem. The Chief’s plan was the first comprehensive data driven look at everything from risk assessment to re-entry services. Unfortunately, Chief Rustin’s plan was summarily dismissed by Mr. Swisstack. Politics.
Now the Commission is being asked not only to blindly fund a $1.5 million Pre-Trial Services draft, but also reaffirm the management that got us here in the first place. Reminds me of old-school Bernalillo County where the back room was where all of the business was done and as long as money flowed plans were unnecessary.
If the Commission wants to reduce the population at MDC, it’s time to let Chief Rustin – the expert hired to do just that – do his job. If that means moving operational control to the Sheriff and away from the politics of the Commission… so much the better.
Bernalillo County Commissioner – District 5
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