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Juvenile Facility Closures Force Long, Expensive Transports

Satellite View of San Juan County NM Juvenile Detention Center

Young people who have been arrested in New Mexico often have to wait for weeks or months before a judge hears their case. But the number of juvenile detention facilities has shrunk by about half since 2015, so more youth are being detained far from home. County officials say that’s a strain on the criminal justice system and it puts young people at risk.

About 350 youth were detained this year in a different New Mexico county than where they’re from. They often still have to make court dates back home. 

Traci Neff, who administers juvenile services in San Juan County, told lawmakers in a committee meeting Tuesday about a young guy who had to go from Farmington to Cibola County five times during his detention.

"This juvenile was picked up at our facility, shackled and cuffed, put in the back of a patrol car, was driven the 139 miles to Cibola County, was sitting in a courthouse or maybe in a holding cell, we don’t know, waiting for their case to be called," said Neff.

It was unclear whether he was restrained and under what conditions, Neff said, because law enforcement officers aren’t trained on how to move young prisoners. "This is confinement," she said. "Is this juvenile being allowed to go to the restroom?" She said she and her staff often send youth with sack lunches on days like this, which can stretch for more than twelve hours. 

This shuffle gets expensive for counties, too. "This is a big impact," said Neff, and it’s only going to get worse as more facilities shut down."

Credit Prepared by New Mexico Counties, color added for emphasis by Hannah Colton/KUNM

Luna and Chaves Counties are expected to close their juvenile detention facilities by the end of 2019, leaving just six operating statewide in Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, San Juan, Curry, and Lea Counties. 

A new report by New Mexico Countiesrecommends that local and state governments share costs of detention, find ways to repurpose old facilities into alternatives to detention, create a statewide transportation team with specialized training, and cut down on unnecessary court appearances.

Juvenile detention in the state has gone down in the last decade, from 4,147 youth detained in 2010, to just 1,459 detained in 2019, according to New Mexico Counties. 


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and from KUNM listeners like you.

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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