ALAMOGORDO, N.M. – A southern New Mexico county has renewed an agreement with another county hundreds of miles away to continue housing its juvenile detainees there.
The Otero County Commission recently voted to renew the agreement it has had with San Juan County since 2008. The contract will run through 2020, The Alamogordo Daily News reported.
The decision comes as the number of juvenile detention facilities around New Mexico continues to shrink. That means more young people are being detained far from home.
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil has acknowledged the challenges counties face in bearing the high costs associated with operating local juvenile justice centers given the declining populations of youngsters who need to be detained.
She told a panel of state lawmakers during a November meeting that sensible solutions were needed.
“The time has come to find ways to keep detained youth adequately supervised and cared for near their home while helping counties in finding ways to meet the high cost of 24-hour detention,” Vigil wrote in a statement prepared for the committee.
She proposed finding ways to share the cost of facilities between the county, state and city governments. As part of that, she suggested exploring the creation of regional detention centers.
A report on the statewide impact of closing county juvenile detention centers was presented to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee on Nov. 12. It shows the number of juveniles detained in New Mexico has decreased 95% over the last decade and that counties with juvenile detention facilities spend far more than those without facilities.
Spending by all 33 counties in 2019 was $18.5 million. For the eight counties with juvenile detention facilities, operational costs were $16.5 million.
There are 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.
In Otero County, where juvenile detainees are placed depends on bed availability, it will look first at Doña Ana County, followed by the facilities in Bernalillo and Santa Fe and, as a last resort, San Juan County.
The trip from the Otero County Detention Center in Alamogordo to the San Juan Juvenile Detention Center is about six hours by car.
Otero County officials said there have been no juveniles transported to San Juan County so far this year. Under the renewed agreement, Otero County will pay $185 per day, per detainee.
In nearby Lincoln County, the sheriff’s office had used the detention facility in Chaves County until it closed.
“It is a real problem just trying to find a bed for juveniles,” Sheriff Robert Shepperd said.