Union concerned MDC changes could harm officers

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – MDC may soon follow in the footsteps of the troubled Albuquerque Police Department. A county commissioner wants more outside oversight for the jail and some changes that some worry would put officers in danger.

Imagine MDC without solitary confinement for inmates who misbehave; that could happen if one county commissioner gets his way.

Corrections Officers Union President Stephen Perkins said it has corrections officers feeling uneasy.

“You would sentence our officers to injury by eliminating segregation because basically you become a referee in daily fights,” Perkins said.

Perkins said he was appalled to hear County Commissioner Art De la Cruz is getting ready to propose some big changes at the Metro Detention Center.

One of those changes could eliminate disciplinary segregation, otherwise known as solitary confinement, for inmates who break the rules. Tuesday there are almost 40 inmates in isolation. Perkins said a lot of those cases involve violent offenses.

But De la Cruz said throwing inmates in a cell alone is not always the answer.

“What’s disappointing to me is that the vast majority are mentally ill,” De la Cruz said. “So instead of getting treatment they’re put into segregation where it only exacerbates the problem.”

De la Cruz said he wants more treatment options, like mental health and substance abuse treatments, instead of isolation.

County Public Safety Director Tom Swisstack agrees with that idea.

“It would be the goal of the commissioner to look at what other alternatives and options may exist,” Swisstack said.

However, some are questioning if eliminating disciplinary segregation, all together, is an achievable goal.

“There isn’t a how to right now exactly,” De la Cruz said.

“I’m not sure totally eliminating segregation is achievable,” Swisstack said. “But it’s a goal that we should all work toward.”

“By eliminating the place to put people for violating the rules, you might as well not have rules because there’s no consequences for violating them,” Perkins said.

That is not the only change the commissioner wants. De la Cruz thinks there should be outside oversight on what’s happening inside MDC.

“Having read the DOJ report with APD and their use of excessive force, MDC needs a third party review as well to make sure we’re all safe,” De la Cruz said.

De la Cruz said the paid Citizens Advisory Committee would review cases of force by officers. Swisstack said there were eight last month.

The committee would also review who is put into segregation.

Corrections officials said they welcome the committee if it consists of some public safety personnel.

The commissioner is waiting for more insight from the jail before writing up legislation.

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