Bernalillo County opens center for recently released inmates

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s largest county has opened a new re-entry center aimed at helping recently released inmates find access to temporary shelters, housing, food, medicine, and drug rehabilitation.

The Bernalillo County’s Resource Re-Entry Center opened Tuesday, the Albuquerque Journal reports . It will be open 24 hours a day for men and women.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said most of the agencies and programs that will have some presence at the center already exist throughout the city.

It replaces a system that operated for years — one in which inmates released from the Metropolitan Detention Center were dropped off at a street corner, day or night, in downtown Albuquerque. County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said that was a dangerous way to operate.

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The Albuquerque Innovation Team worked with the University of New Mexico and Virginia Tech on data showing criminal activity in Bernalillo County from 2010 to 2017. The study shows 42% of people arrested in the county in the past seven years have been arrested an average of 4.5 times. Mayor Richard Berry says the data will help construct a road map for state lawmakers and judges to make the best decision for people who are arrested. The current risk assessment tool judges are using to determine if a criminal should stay in jail pending trial or be released on their own recognizance isn’t working.

Media: KOAT

"This was particularly dangerous for women. That became really obvious when we had women come to speak to the commission about being dropped off in the middle of the night with no resources, no safe place to stay, no phone and walking for miles to get home in the middle of the night."

Morgas Baca said about 50 to 70 people are released from the detention center every day.

University of New Mexico Hospital employees will be at the new center to direct people to behavioral health resources. The city is providing bus and temporary housing vouchers. There are also plans to have clothing available, among other programs, Morgas Baca said.

Renovating the center cost about $800,000, and the facility will have an annual operating budget of about $1 million, according to a county news release.

Morgas Baca said most costs for the program will be paid for with proceeds of a gross receipts tax that went into effect in 2015 to fund "more mental and behavioral health services" and to provide "a safety net system that develops a continuum of care not otherwise funded" in the state.

The tax is one-eighth of 1 percent on most goods and services throughout the county and is estimated to generate about $20 million a year.

Robert Salazar, one of those former inmates at the opening ceremony, said he struggled with mental illness and addiction issues and for a period in his life he was in and out of the county detention center.

"What I see in this place is hope," he said. "Being able to have the right resources when people need them most and are at their most vulnerable will help provide that hope."

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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