Doña Ana County Commission Chair Lynn Ellins and District 3 Commissioner Shannon Reynolds gave “top marks across the board” in their evaluations of the County Detention Center following a December inspection.
“Overall, we were impressed with the personnel and we were impressed with the current state of the facilities which are in the process of being upgraded,” Ellins said.
But Ellins noted there's room for improvement.
“However, there were a few specific comments made by inmates and observations by us,” Ellins said. “One inmate complained that there was no law library available. Another complained about the food being tasteless and not enough Mexican food being served, which I found surprising. And unless an inmate has at least $4 and, I think, 17 cents in his commissary account… he or she was only given one tube of toothpaste and one bar of soap every two weeks, which strikes me as an unreasonably low rate of distributions.”
Detention Center Director Daniel Peters, whom the county appointed last September, addressed the findings by Ellins.
“Sir, Mr. Chairman, it's my position that, you know, not just here but any facility that I've worked at, if an inmate asks for somehting or a detainee asks for something, if they need something whether it's toilet paper or soap we should be providing that,” Peters said.
Peters, a former warden and correctional officer, said he’s looking at ways to provide law library access through computer tablets inmates pay to use. Inmates may use them to listen to music, email staff and read mail sent from outside.
“And I think I might be able to work something out where they have access to a law library through those tablets. I’m still currently researching that but it looks positive at this point. And that would be obviously free of charge. An inmate would just get on their tablet, whether it was a state inmate or a federal inmate and they would have access to what’s called Westlaw. So, I’m very optimistic about solving that,” Peters said.
“The law library is something I agree with the chair,” Reynolds said.
While access to legal information may create career opportunities for inmates after jail, Reynolds said having a law library also reduces risk for the county.
“There’s a risk to the county not to provide access to legal information so the detainees have the opportunity to investigate their own case and determine what they can do in order to better their situation for their charges that they have,” Reynolds said. “So, in many cases throughout the country, not having access to a law library has actually resulted in suits against the county or against the detention center for not providing ready access to legal information or legal concerns that they have.”
A Las Cruces Sun-News article published in December describes two lawsuits alleging mistreatment at the Detention Center. Reynolds said he wasn’t asked to look specifically at those cases during his inspection.
“However, I can only say this. I can’t say anything about those specific cases but I can simply say that I have reviewed, not as part of this process, but I have reviewed the processes that are somewhat discussed as being a problem in the detention center for these two cases. And we are looking at purchasing new equipment to solve one of the problems. It really doesn’t solve the problem but it enhances our ability to prevent a future concern of that,” Reynolds said. “And the other one, based on what I’ve seen of the way the video works and the way the... detainees are actually dealt with as far as searching for drugs and stuff, I think our practices are already in pretty good shape. I just think this is a misunderstanding or possible misrepresentation of the facts at this point. That’s all I’ll say.”
As for next steps, Reynolds said the Detention Center needs upgraded equipment. The county approved a budget resolution to buy a $160,000 full body scanning system. Reynolds said that will nearly eliminate the need to conduct manual searches during the center's intake process.
“Again, thank you for visiting us. I encourage you to come again, without notice. I'm not going to say that the door is open because it is a facility. We keep it secure. But I welcome you to come back and that goes to the entire commission as well, too,” Peters said.
Reynolds and District 2 Commissioner Ramon Gonzalez signed up to conduct the 2020 inspection.