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Bernalillo County Makes Progress Toward Resolving McClendon Lawsuit

02/18/2019

Bernalillo County officials are excited to announce significant progress in the county’s efforts to resolve the requirements of the 1995 McClendon vs. City of Albuquerque lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed in regards to conditions at the former Bernalillo County Detention Center, which was operated by the City of Albuquerque at the time. The lawsuit carried over to the new Metropolitan Detention Center when it was completed and Bernalillo County took over operations. Last week the Bernalillo County Commission received an update on MDC’s significant progress this far.

The McClendon lawsuit outlines 253 requirements for MDC to reach compliance on. The requirements are broken down into domains, focusing on mental health, medical services and jail operations. MDC is currently 59.7 percent compliant, a nearly doubled increase from the 2017 rating of 34.3 percent.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca has made reaching McClendon compliance a priority for a number of reasons. “Satisfying the McClendon requirements will not only save money for Bernalillo County, but it will also ensure that we are running the safest and most humane correctional facility possible for our inmates. I am extremely proud of the immense progress MDC has made toward this important goal and I am confident we are on the right track toward completing our compliance journey.”

Domain compliance is periodically evaluated by federal court-appointed experts. MDC’s next compliance visit for mental health and jail operations will be held in June, 2019. The next compliance visit for medical services will be held in April, 2019.

“MDC is dedicated to reaching the McClendon finish line with the help of our steadfast staff. We welcome the continued evaluation from the federal monitors as a way to strengthen our facility and ensure the wellbeing of each and every one of our inmates,” says Chief of Corrections Ralph Fernandez.

A 2015 settlement agreement laid out a specific and achievable roadmap for MDC to reach compliance within the eight domains. Upon completion, the court will enter a permanent injunction, meaning legally-binding requirements, with the following provisions:

  1. Population to be capped at 1950 inmates
  2. No inmates will be triple-celled
  3. No inmates will sleep in day rooms, except during periods of detoxification
  4. High-risk or security threat inmates will not be double-celled unless compatible
  5. Segregated inmates in protective custody may be double-celled if low risk and compatible
  6. Unclassified inmates, who have not yet received their permanent housing assignment, will not be housed with segregated inmates

MDC has already made significant progress toward those provisions by reducing inmate population and overhauling classification methods. MDC staff have also cleared a backlog of internal investigations by launching a new investigative unit called the Office of Professional Standards. Another result of McClendon has been MDC’s complete overhaul of its use of force training. The new training guidelines are designed to help MDC correctional officers and psychological staff work together to deescalate situations in an effort to reduce the need for use of restraints or other common use of force techniques. Inmate discipline procedures have also been revised under McClendon, to ensure inmates are not being disciplined for any behavior linked to a mental illness.

The MDC McClendon Executive Action Committee, comprised of MDC chiefs, administrative staff, attorneys and supervisors meets monthly to monitor the facility’s progress. There is also a monthly McClendon access meeting between MDC representatives and inmates’ counsel, as well as a quarterly meeting of departments across Bernalillo County, all of which are affected by McClendon.

MDC officials expect to reach that compliance goal in the next two years.

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