Otero County New Mexico Detention Center A History of Issues


Otero County Detention Center, unrest, spiraling costs, staffing shortages a concern to the community. - 2nd Lidlfe Media Alamogordo Town News

The detention center in Otero County, New Mexico was yet again a scene of unrest the late afternoon of May 21st, 2024 calling for reinforcements from various law enforcement agencies and the fire department to be dispatched to restore order, provide first aide and other services. This is not the first incident nor first occurrence of concern and conflict brought to light at the center. 

AlamogordoTownNews.org has been involved in an ongoing investigation after receiving multiple reports from staff and leadership of concerns with scheduling, staffing levels to ensure the protection of medical staff and questions concerning deaths that have occurred at the detention center to include a number of suicides and attempted suicides by inmates. 

In response to an IPRA submitted in early April concerning staffing levels the Detention Center provided us with the following information; ”that eight officers are assigned to each shift (days and nights) with one supervising officer to seven floor officers. The medical staff on the day shift consists of two registered/certified nurses and/or paramedics as well as the Health Service Administrator and Director of Nursing who are also registered nurses (four medical employees total). The medical staff on the night shift consists of two nurses/paramedics. 

The facility also has a Certified Mental Health Coordinator and Counselor on site during the day. These Mental Health providers are on-call during non-working hours and can embolize at a seconds notice and are available to the detainees of OCDC 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if any crisis or situation may arise that requires their assistance or attention.”

A former medical care provider had approached our media company expressing concerns, mentioning that a number of “attempted suicides had occurred recently” on site, it was also reported to us that “when medical staff is making rounds to medicate inmates they are supposed to be accompanied by 2 officers for their safety and on many occasions they were forced to make rounds either unsupervised or with only 1 officer” verses the prescribed 2 to ensure safety. 

As a part of our investigation we asked for stats on suicides that have occurred at the facility the last year to present. One suicide has been confirmed for this year at the detention center by hanging in March. Last year the detention center has 2 hangings, one suicide by overdose and one death by natural causes a total of 4 deaths at the facility.

The facility had struggled in past years with significant staffing shortages but they appear to be more stable than past but still a major concern. 

Staffing issues have been an ongoing concern at the Otero County Detention Center. As recently as October of 2023 it was reported that the vacancy rate for detention center employees was 32%. 

In a story by Source New Mexico the costs to Otero County as a result of issues at the Detention Center have skyrocketed over the last 2 years.

 Otero County Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to pay more for people arrested in Otero County held at the Hudspeth County Jail in Sierra Blanca, Texas.

“Hudspeth County houses detainees for Otero County Detention Center when the facility is overcrowded and/or due to short staffing,” wrote Nena Sisler, the Otero County correctional services director, in the request for the item.

Sisler cited “inflation and rising operational costs” as reasons for the increase.

Commissioners passed 18 consent agenda items at the Oct. 12 meeting, including the new contract with updated rates. In the contract, Otero County agrees to pay Hudspeth County $75/per-day, per-person, up from the $60/per day rate, but also be billed for any medical care and additional costs. Both parties could end the contract with written 60-day notice.

…Otero County spent $866,239 on incarcerating adults in 2022, according to the fiscal year 2023 budget. That’s up from $577,525 in 2021 which nearly doubled the 2020 rate of $295,109.

Last year, Otero County’s detention center vacancy rate was above 50% with just over 30 vacancies, and the second highest in the state, according to data from New Mexico Counties.

Since 2017, there have been ongoing and random issues of concern at this facility. 
On April 30, 2017, during a routine lockdown, at least nine prisoners at the Otero County Jail refused to comply with orders, leading to unrest. 

The unrest began when one man was upset that his phone call was interrupted by the lockdown. Similar to last nights incident many agencies responded to the incident, including Otero County Sheriff’s Office, Alamogordo Police, and New Mexico State Police.  In the 2017 incident nine people were charged in connection with the uprising. Charges ranged from felony assault against a jail to attempted disarming of a peace officer.

Rather staffing issues or medical care played a role in the most recent outbreak of violence at the Otero County detention center is yet to be determined. What is known is costs at this facility are spiraling upwards, a suicide rate is a concern leading to questions of rather adequate health care is maintained. Staffing is an ongoing issue. The media is awaiting an official statement from county officials regarding the events surrounding the need for police and fire at the detention center last evening,  and more details of the situation, cause and effect and concerns leading to a mass police and fire response. Stay tuned to further details as they become available…

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