Housing Plan To Generate $3 Million a Year for Jail
Bernalillo County commissioners today are scheduled to consider taking the first step toward transforming the Downtown jail into a holding center for federal inmates.
The proposal, sponsored by Commission Chairman Steve Gallegos, would authorize the county to submit an application to the U.S. Marshals Service to launch the program and remodel the jail to meet federal standards.
Housing federal inmates at the Downtown jail would generate about $3 million a year that could be earmarked for juvenile justice programs and construction of a 256-bed psychiatric unit at the West Side jail, county officials say.
The county also could use the money to buy the satellite jail on Fourth Street and turn it into a law-enforcement processing center where police officers could drop off people they have arrested. Vans would take the suspects to the new jail for booking.
"I think (approval of the application) is extremely important," Gallegos said. "... We need to find out from the Department of Justice if they agree with our proposal."
But some commissioners have reservations about the plan.
Commissioner Les Houston said he is "philosophically opposed" to having Bernalillo County run a federal holding center. The county soon will be busy enough operating the 2,100-bed Metropolitan Detention Center under construction on the West Side, he said.
Houston suggests the county either lease the old jail or sell it.
"If we are going to operate a jail for profit ... then it should be operated by professionals, such as one of the national private operators," Houston said.
But Gallegos, who opposes having a private company run the holding center, said Houston should excuse himself from discussion of the application. Houston is a registered lobbyist for Wackenhut Corrections Corporation.
The county sent letters to five private corrections-management companies to gauge their interest in buying or leasing the Downtown jail. Wackenhut was one of three companies that responded to the county's request.
"I don't think Commissioner Houston can discuss any issues on this," Gallegos said.
Houston, through an aide, declined to comment.
Commissioner Tim Cummins said he favors proceeding with the application, but the county should leave its options open and still consider leasing or selling the jail.
Commissioner Tom Rutherford hasn't made up his mind yet. "I want to keep the broadest range of options open," he said.
Commissioner Ken Sanchez, however, believes the county might be overestimating the revenue that a federal holding center would generate, he said. He would oppose keeping the Downtown jail open to federal inmates over a "long-term period" because it could harm Downtown redevelopment efforts, he said.
The application up for discussion today calls for the county to operate a 550-bed "Federal Inmate Facility" for seven to 10 years. If the jail is 90 percent full, the county expects to make about $3 million a year.
The federal application also requests $5.2 million to remodel the jail.
The West Side detention center should be ready for occupancy in late December or January. The county has planned to vacate the Downtown jail.
The city and the county share operating costs of the jail, though the city manages daily operations. The county, however, plans to run the new jail.