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Bernalillo County Makes Progress Toward Resolving McClendon Lawsuit

02/03/2020

Bernalillo County is closer than ever to resolving the requirements of the 1995 McClendon v. City of Albuquerque lawsuit, reaching 62% compliance with all rated requirements.

The McClendon v. City of Albuquerque lawsuit was filed in regards to conditions at the former Bernalillo County Detention Center, which was operated by the City of Albuquerque at the time. The lawsuit carried over to the new Metropolitan Detention Center when it was completed and Bernalillo County took over operations.

The McClendon lawsuit outlines 257 requirements for MDC to reach compliance on. Although there are 257 requirements, not all have a current compliance rating. Out of the 255 specific rated requirements, 158 are now in compliance – 62%.

The requirements are broken down into eight domains, focusing on mental health, medical services and jail operations. Therefore, MDC’s compliance is measured by both individual requirements and domains.

In 2018, MDC was compliant in a single domain. In 2019, MDC reached compliance in two additional domains, meaning MDC is now compliant with three out of eight domains. Compliance with a domain is significant, because it allows MDC to move the domain from the first phase of the lawsuit, initial compliance, into the next phase, self-monitoring.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca applauds the hard work MDC’s administration and staff have made toward increasing the compliance rating. “Reaching new levels of compliance in the McClendon lawsuit means MDC is constantly improving its environment for both our inmates and staff. These changes are the result of hard work and dedication and I applaud our employees for their commitment to our end goal of total compliance and dismissal of this lawsuit.”

Compliance with individual requirements and domains is periodically evaluated by federal court-appointed experts. MDC’s next compliance visit for jail operations will be held in February. MDC’s next compliance visit for medical care and mental health will be held in June.

“MDC works closely with our court-appointed experts to draft and follow a comprehensive roadmap for success in meeting and exceeding the requirements of this lawsuit. Our facility is thankful for their guidance as we work to reach our ultimate goal of total compliance,” says Chief of Corrections Ralph Fernandez.

A 2015 settlement agreement laid out a specific and achievable path for MDC to reach compliance within the eight domains. Upon completion, the court will enter a permanent injunction, meaning legally binding requirements, with the following provisions:

  1. Population to be capped at 1950 inmates
  2. No inmates will be triple-celled
  3. No inmates will sleep in day rooms, except during periods of detoxification
  4. High-risk or security threat inmates will not be double-celled unless compatible
  5. Segregated inmates in protective custody may be double-celled if low risk and compatible
  6. Unclassified inmates, who have not yet received their permanent housing assignment, will not be housed with segregated inmates

MDC has already made significant progress toward those provisions by reducing the inmate population and overhauling classification methods. MDC staff have also cleared a backlog of internal investigations by launching a new investigative unit called the Office of Professional Standards. Another result of McClendon has been MDC’s complete overhaul of its use of force training. The new training guidelines are designed to help MDC correctional officers and mental health staff work together to deescalate situations in an effort to reduce the need for use of restraints or other common use of force techniques. Inmate discipline procedures have also been revised under McClendon, to ensure inmates are not being disciplined for any behavior linked to a mental illness. MDC is currently working to implement the revised inmate discipline process.

2019 progress includes:

  1. Domain #3, which addresses miscellaneous jail operations, was recently found to be compliant with all rated provisions. Notably, many of the Domain #3 requirements are similar to requirements with the American Correctional Associations (ACA) standards. MDC passed its last ACA evaluation with 100% compliance.
  2. Domain #5, addressing population management, has moved into the self-monitoring phase. The nine-month phase will expire in August and if MDC remains compliant, this domain will be disengaged.
  3. Domain #6, addressing housing and segregation, has been found in compliance. MDC has filed a motion with the court to move this domain into self-monitoring.
  4. Domain #7, relating to sexual misconduct, is expected to move into full compliance this spring, after a federal audit report rated MDC in full compliance with all Prison Rape Elimination Act standards. This act outlines 52 standards correctional facilities must comply with, in an effort to eliminate prison rape.

MDC is also working with its medical contractor, Centurion, to improve medical and mental health care. The facility recently added four mental health positions to the contract and now employs seven psychiatrists to help address the mental health needs of inmates. The contract also provides for a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner, although this position is currently vacant. MDC also added two medical rover positions. In that role MDC correctional officers are available to ensure inmates are taken to the medical unit for timely care.

The MDC McClendon Executive Action Committee, comprised of MDC chiefs, administrative staff, attorneys and supervisors meets monthly to monitor the facility’s progress. MDC officials expect to reach full McClendon compliance by 2021.

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