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Otero County renews juvenile detention contract with San Juan County


Cristina Carreon   | Alamogordo Daily News

At the Otero County Commission meeting on Nov. 14, commissioners agreed to renew an agreement with San Juan County to house the county's juvenile detainees "as a last resort" in San Juan, per an agreement between Otero and San Juan counties made in 2008.

The contract runs through June 30, 2020. 

There is currently no juvenile detention facility in Otero County. All juveniles taken into custody by arresting agencies are therefore sent out of the county, according to Otero County Detention Center officials.

In nearby Lincoln County, the Sheriff's Office has been utilizing the detention facility in Chaves County. But Sheriff Robert Shepperd said that facility has since closed.

“We don’t have a contract with any certain facility, so what we do if one is arrested in Lincoln County, Juvenile Probation office will try to find a bed. There are a few still in the state. We were using Chaves County a lot  but I found out this morning that theirs is closed. We have Santa Fe, Farmington, Clayton, Tucumcari. I think there is one in Hobbs. It is a real problem just trying to find a bed for juveniles. There’s also Las Cruces," Shepperd said.

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No designated juvenile facility

Shepperd said county juveniles tend to take precedent and it is usually up to a Juvenile Probation Office to find a facility where juveniles can stay.

He said in his more than 20 years in Lincoln County, juveniles never were housed locally.

“Camp Sierra Blanca was a court-ordered place after they got in the court system. As long as I know, Lincoln County never had a juvenile facility.”

Juveniles who are picked up in Otero County by law enforcement are placed into county custody and then housed in an area facility.

There are currently six Otero County juveniles in custody at the Otero County Detention Center, according to OCDC officials. Five Otero County juvenile detainees are currently being housed in Doña Ana County and one is being housed in Bernalillo.

The trip from the Otero County Detention Center in Alamogordo to the San Juan Juvenile Detention Center in Farmington, New Mexico, is approximately six hours by car.

How Otero County juvenile detainees are housed in area facilities depends on bed availability. Otero County will send juveniles to county detention facilities in the following order: Doña Ana, Bernalillo, Santa Fe and, as a last resort, San Juan county.

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OCDC provides transport to the juvenile detention facilities, and officials say there have been no juveniles transported from Otero County sent to the San Juan County facility in the year 2019 to date.

According to the agreement, Otero County will pay San Juan County $185 per day, per detainee from Otero county. The agreement states, "The daily rate is a function of the annual direct and indirect cost of operation divided by total detainee days."

The agreement stipulates that San Juan County will bill Otero County on a monthly basis for the full rate for detainees that stay longer than 12 hours at the Juvenile Services Facility in Farmington, and will charge half the daily rate for any detainee that stays in the jail 12 hours or less.

Report on statewide juvenile detention

A Statewide Impact of County Juvenile Detention Facility Closures report presented by New Mexico Counties to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee on Nov. 12 illustrates the juvenile detainee population in New Mexico and its associated costs while also advocating for sharing those costs among stakeholders.

The report states that the number of juveniles detained in New Mexico has decreased 95 percent in the last 10 years, but shows how the brunt of costs incurred by counties with juvenile detention facilities surpasses counties without them. 

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The total amount of money spent by all 33 New Mexican counties in 2019 was $18.5 million. For just the eight counties with operating juvenile detention facilities in the state, operational costs were $16.5 million in that time frame. 

There are currently six juvenile detention facilities in New Mexico: Bernalillo, Curry, Doña Ana, Lea, San Juan, and Santa Fe counties, according to the report.

Between 2015 and 2019, juvenile detention facilities in Rio Arriba, Taos, McKinley, Quay and Eddy counties closed. Facilities in Chaves and Luna counties will close soon or have already closed. The facility in Grant county has also closed.

Detention facilities in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and San Juan counties have the highest bed count for juvenile detainees.

The average county juvenile daily population in New Mexico counties was 126 in fiscal year 2019 while the average federal population in that time frame was 16.

Cristina Carreon can be reached at ccarreon@alamogordonews.com, 575-437-7120 or on Twitter @Cris_carreon90.