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Detention Center gets its third accreditation; Local center is first in state to be approved three times

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“It takes a staff of all hundred of us to be able to get this thing accomplished,” Detention Center Administrator Clay Corn said about the reaccreditation efforts. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Chaves County Detention Center has received what the industry considers to be a signification recognition, its third accreditation certification.

According to local officials, the achievement is a testament to the sound operations of the prison, which they said represents the county’s largest potential liability. Nationally lawsuits are filed frequently concerning what occurs in prisons and how detainees are treated, with the local detention center no exception to that.

The accreditation certification is from the Adult Detention Professional Standards Council, one of the arms of a Detention Administrators’ affiliate of the New Mexico Counties. That group, along with the New Mexico Municipal League, presented the recognition to Chaves County at a June 22 conference. Chaves County Detention Center Administrator Clay Corn is chair of the council and of the New Mexico Counties Detention Administrators’ affiliate.

“They have 208 standards they have to meet,” said Council Program Manager Scott Chambers, who spoke at the Monday meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. “There are about 700 files that we have to review, plus the overall operation of the facility.”

Chambers said a five-person accreditation team looks at all aspects of the operations.

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“We get a chance to see everything in the facility — food services, maintenance, medical. And, on your medical, we saw a vast improvement over the three-year process. You have a new medical staff now on board. It is now computerized, and the files that were in medical were impressive. Of course, the security side, that part of the operation is — you can tell is just a smooth operation on how that goes.”

He praised Corn and his staff for their professionalism and knowledge and said the assessment team recognized that what they had observed indicated ongoing practices and daily activities, not just actions taken for the benefit of the assessment.

The detention center is the first in New Mexico to receive its third consecutive accreditation. It became the first in the state to be accredited in 2012 following the adoption of professional standards in 2010 and now is one of nine counties among the 33 in New Mexico to be recognized for what the New Mexico Counties group said demonstrates “meeting or exceeding best practice standards.” The council visits every three years to review the facility to determine whether accreditation will be renewed.

“It takes a staff of all hundred of us to be able to get this thing accomplished,” Corn said. “The commissioners and (County Manager Stan Riggs) know the exposure we are under every day.”

“That is our No. 1 liability,” said Riggs. “Today, we have 293 people that are out there. We’ve had over 300 from time to time. We’re built to house up to four (hundred). They just don’t know what they have all the time. Sometimes we have murderers, and sometimes we have people who just don’t pay their traffic tickets and such. So we are just very diverse. And it is very, very important how we handle that, and Clay and his staff are doing an outstanding job.”

A serious recent issue resulted in an April 2017 wrongful death lawsuit against the county and its medical services companies at that time, Southwest Correctional Medicine Group of Espanola, New Mexico, and the parent compay, Correctional Medical Group Cos. of California. The lawsuit filed by the estate of Hector Interiano alleged that the 34-year-old man died in December 2015 because he was denied food, water and appropriate medical care for about 45 hours following his arrest for a misdemeanor assault charge.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, an autopsy concluded that he suffered heart failure as a result of methamphetamine toxicity, with dehydration as a significant contributing factor. The lawsuit alleged that Interiano was not provided food or water and that signs of his emotional and physical distress while in the facility were not properly attended to by detention center staff.

The case is pending in New Mexico 5th Judicial District Court in Chaves County. “We still believe that we did everything by the book and, as such, are not liable for Mr. Interiano’s death,” Riggs said.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.