CARLSBAD, N.M. — Arrested for a 2014 DUI offense, “Kat” was booked in the Eddy County Detention Center in May 2017.

The 48-year-old was one of more than 60 women incarcerated in the jail in October.

Drugs, she said, consumed some of the women she’s encountered, who’ve found themselves time and again in jail because of substance abuse.

“They tell me, ‘When I get out, it’s just right there waiting for me,” she said. “Once they get it again, they come right back in for the same charges.

“I pray for them because some of them have no place to go.”

Substances abuse charges filed against women in Eddy County in 2017 totaled 105 — in 2011 that number was only 41.

Drug-related offenses are the most common across both genders, followed by murder, probation violation, battery, assault, sex crimes, robbery, burglary and DUI, said Eddy County Detention Center officials.

Brandy Gere was incarcerated in October on a pending charge of resisting, evading and obstructing an officer. Gere, a drug user, said she was working to break her addiction.

“It’s way easier to get them than to stay away from them, that’s for sure,” Gere said.

While awaiting a court hearing in October, Gere learned she was pregnant with her fourth child.

Wiping tears from her eyes, she said, “This sucks. I miss my kids.”

In December, Eva Quiroga was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, Maribel Harrelson for drug trafficking and Valerie Fierro for a probation violation.

“That’s the struggle of the day, is being without our kids,” Quiroga said. “There’s different ways that I should’ve went about it, but at the same time, I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I just know I can make it better in life for the future of my kids and my family.”

The women were concerned their criminal history would affect their day-to-day lives once released, but each said they are working to make the time served their last.

Fierro wants to enroll in college courses and study psychology.

“It’s hard to get back on your feet with somebody judging you,” Harrelson said.

More than 950 women were incarcerated in the Eddy County Detention Center in 2017, according to data from the detention center.

Detention center officials have struggled to accommodate the female population. In November, the women were relocated to the Detention Center’s main building.

They had previously been housed in a second building — the former juvenile detention center — across the street for the last few years. There, female inmates slept on temporary bunks, said Eddy County Detention Center Warden Billy Massingill.

Massengill said the move was partially due to overcrowding. On any given day, the detention center could be over capacity by 5 to 10 women.

The former juvenile detention center is now used as a special management unit, which holds inmates — male and female — with behavioral health issues.

“It’s all driven by numbers,” Massingill said of the move. “We’ve got more inmates than beds.”

On average, 54 women were incarcerated daily — a decrease from 58 in 2016 and an increase of 29 from 2013.

Forty women are currently incarcerated.

Despite the move, Massingill said the jail could still face an overcrowding issue as the number of inmates changes every day.

DETENTION CENTER BY THE NUMBERS

It cost about $90 a day to house an inmate in the county jail.

The detention center receives approximately $200,000 from the State of New Mexico to feed inmates. Revenue is also generated through a jail commissary, which allows inmates to purchase items.

“The public needs to know that we do the best we can to not abuse any of the (funds) that is given to us,” Voldahl said. “At the end of the day, it’s the taxpayers’ money… we have to try to be as efficient as we can.”

The detention center receives about $13 million as an annual budget.

Chief deputy administration Maria Merjil said video arraignments help the bottom line by decreasing the cost of transports.

But certain inmate services come with a large price tag — including medical services.

About $875,000 was budgeted for medical services for the 2017-18 fiscal year — a decrease from $967,000 in 2016-2017. In 2013-2014 budgeting for medical services was only$313,738.

Registered nurse Marlena Pell said she has treated inmates with a variety of medical needs including diabetes, high blood pressure and alcohol and drug withdrawal.

“As a nurse, I’ve got to have the same relationship with inmates that I do (with patients) in the hospital,” Pell said. “They still have issues. They still have problems.”

Officials said they believe medical services increased due to effects of drug use.

“They are riddled with ailments directly from the drugs,” said Capt. Sherry Hall.

Cmdr. James McCormick with Pecos Valley Drug Task Force said methamphetamine and heroin are the top drugs of choice in the region, followed by marijuana and cocaine. Prescription opioid abuse has recently become a concern for law enforcement.

“Women are a lot more involved in prescription drugs than men,” he said, mentioning that prescription drugs are often stolen or prescribed unlawfully by doctors or nurse practitioners.

NEED FOR STAFF

Massingill said fully staffed, the Eddy County Detention Center would employ approximately 116 people.

Vacancies, family and medical leave and budgetary woes means the jail is often short staffed.

In 2016, the Eddy County Board of Commissioners instituted a hiring freeze that directly affected the Detention Center.

The shortage of staff resulted in employees working overtime.

On Jan. 2, county commissioners voted to released five of the 15 frozen positions — detention officers — and Massingill said he plans to immediately fill those vacancies.

“Every day we’re short. We’re getting used to it,” Hall said. “We’re getting used to pulling this one (employee) and pulling that one.”

Massingill said at least two officers should be at each pod on a shift — one to work the floor and one to handle controls. However, there has been only one officer or an officer and a case manager in a pod.

Sgt. Felicia Voldahl, whose primary responsibility is to schedule transports each week, often found herself transporting inmates as well.

In November, she had six full-time officers and one part-time officer completing transports.

Voldahl said Detention Center administrators, officers and even staff taking a day have been called upon to assist in transports when necessary.

“Some days, we need 10 or 11 officers to get through the day. And then other days, we only need the six,” Voldahl said. “We’re only human.”

Bland said they cannot book an inmate unless a detention officer is present.

“If we don’t have the officers, we’re hindered in what we can do. The booking process and the release process is on stand still until they can help us,” Bland said.

If a detention officer is present and needs to complete another task, the booking clerk has to wait — sometimes as long as three hours — until another officer is available to take over security and finish the booking process.

Bland said she hopes to have a booking officer that would be specifically assigned to help with the process.

“That’s been the plan, to get people in and out quicker. We’re going to have to have a dedicated person in there to make the process faster,” Bland said.

Despite the staff storage and overtime, detention officer Trina Lee said she manages her time to avoid being overwhelmed.

“Even on days when it feels like we’re short, we’re doing pretty good,” Lee said. “Your biggest thing is just staying alert. Don’t get complacent. Just make sure you can multitask.”

As an officer, Voldahl would like to see the inmate population at zero.

That means addressing larger issues — substance abuse and behavioral health — that cause recidivism.

“Kat,” who has spent her confinement as a witness to the effect of substance abuse on women in the community, feels the same.

“I see females come and go, the same females. I try to tell them, ‘When you get out there, do your best. Try to better yourself.’ But it seems like it just goes in one ear and out the other, and they come back in two weeks,” Kat said. “This is not where you want to be.”


Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/