There’s no need for a ‘walk of shame’
No released inmate should have to walk miles from jail to town in the dark.
As Sami Edge reported on Sunday, inmates from the Santa Fe County jail often strike out on foot after being released. They take off along N.M. 14 — it’s 6.4 miles to the mall, 8.4 miles to the homeless shelter and 12 miles to the Plaza — trying to reach safety. One inmate, Alan Cruthirds, tried to cross Interstate 25 and died in the attempt almost three years ago. His family still wonders what happened.
We can’t know why someone released from jail on a misdemeanor charge of drinking alcohol in public attempted to cross an interstate. But we do know that the jail and its employees must do more to make sure inmates aren’t at risk.
Start with how prisoners are released. Time the departure from jail to correspond with public transportation that does serve the area; this may take coordination with the courts and how release orders are sent. Free Blue Buses from the North Central Regional Transportation system run each day; prisoners can take those if they don’t have a ride.Don’t release inmates at 2 a.m.
Our reporter was told that odd-hour releases happen because once the paperwork is done, the inmates have to be let go. If that’s the case — whether by law or policy — change either or both; bureaucrats must take control of how people go through the system so that they are safe.
Too, released inmates say they aren’t aware of transportation options. So that needs to be fixed. Put up signs. Make sure lawyers are told about rides for their clients. Do everything possible so that inmates don’t just take off walking — if need be, forbid it. In Albuquerque, the Metropolitan Detention Center is 15 miles from downtown. Inmates without a personal ride must take jail transportation. Prisoners don’t walk. They aren’t allowed that choice.
To be fair, jail officials have inmates sign a waiver and many inmates who later choose to walk do sign the paper saying they turned down a ride. There’s a disconnect in what is available and what inmates believe. Some are just too impatient to wait.
That gets back to timing issues. Release people at times when transportation is there. Let people know that buses are available. With more predictable release times, the rides the jail does offer can happen without prisoners having to wait hours until an employee is free.
Work it into the schedule that someone is available to move people out; evidently, the county drops ex-inmates off at the juvenile facility on Airport Road (if, that is, the people being released actually understand the rides are available).
Otherwise, people will keep on walking. At an Allsup’s on N.M. 14, an employee told our reporter that he sees as many as five released inmates stop at the store nearly every day.
Seeing the wandering ex-inmates makes customers uncomfortable; often, the former prisoners have nowhere to go and no one to call. All the more reason that Santa Fe County should make sure they arrive in town in one piece.
Remember, too, the elephant in the room — many of the people being released are mentally ill and are vulnerable after a stay in jail. Help them, so they aren’t in danger.
Santa Fe County Commissioners, county bosses and others — this is a problem that can be fixed. Get to it.