Is House Arrest an Alternative to Jail Overcrowding?

Sep 6, 2013

An ankle monitoring device used to track CCP participants
Credit Andy Lyman

The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center recently transferred more than 400 inmates to other jurisdictions across New Mexico and even one in Texas. The move came after a federal court judge ordered the jail to reduce its inmate population.

While the jail population was ultimately reduced, there may have been another option for the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. The Community Custody Program or CCP is a form of house arrest where participants report to jail officials and are monitored by an ankle bracelet, but are able to continue working living with their families.

For Shane Jones, it was the idea of being able to contribute to his family that made CCP appealing to him. He was initially arrested for drugs, but violated his terms of release by not having valid car insurance. Jones saw first hand what an overcrowded jail looked like.

“Three men in a two man cell, it’s not unseen. The tension in every unit is to the max,” Jones said. “You have to address your own problems in there, then you have address somebody else’s problems while you’re in there because they’re so close to you and you can’t get away from it.”  

Jones spent his time in jail in an overcrowded cell, but some people stay in larger areas known as pods. After being convicted of DWI and later failing a drug test, Aaron Adams spent about six months in one of those pods, which are designed to hold eight people. Adams said he saw his pod filled with 12 people.

“You have eight beds, but there’s four people on the floor,” Adams said. “It’s crowded.”

In order for a person to qualify for CCP, a judge must first approve. Once the court determines a person qualifies, they move on to the intake office in down town Albuquerque. Case manager Jerri Barros-Vera said the number of participants she sees varies, but the total number in the program stays at about 250.

When Barros-Vera meets with potential participants, she makes sure they are signed up for counseling sessions and goes over the program requirements. Some of those requirements include having a dedicated phone line and participating in work detail.

Before the inmate transfer last month, the MDC housed almost 300 more inmates than it was designed to hold. Meanwhile, CCP had room for almost 250 more participants.

Some say CCP is not the final solution to overcrowding. Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson said it helps, but will not fix jail overcrowding and said a case from 2010 involving bribery is the reason some don’t fully trust the program.

“Unfortunately, programs like CCP only nibble around the edges of our population problem,” he said. “Right now [the courts] are only willing to trust us as far as if they say they are eligible for CCP they’ll put them into CCP. And I don’t blame them for it, but it further exacerbates a problem that exists.”

Officials from at least New Mexico’s 2nd Judicial District Court deny there is any doubt in the program.

Johnson’s colleague, Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said she sees CCP as a viable alternative to jail. She says it doesn’t take jail walls to keep the community safe from non-violent or low risk offenders.

“If we could have CCP at maximum capacity, the overcrowding issue would be much reduced,” Stebbins said.

Last month Bernalillo County transferred a total of 430 inmates to Sandoval and Torrance County in New Mexico and Polk County in Texas.