ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—The detention center that serves New Mexico's largest city and most populous county is crowded, and Bernalillo County commissioners have been ordered to court next month for settlement talks involving conditions inside the jail system.

The county is also being asked to explain why it shouldn't be required to come up with a written plan by July 1 for tackling crowding in the jail's cells.

Separate orders regarding the Metropolitan Detention Center were issued this week by Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker and U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Torgerson, according to the Albuquerque Journal ( http://bit.ly/Z824Yl).

The commission deadlocked the previous week on whether to relieve crowding at the detention center by shipping inmates to other jails in New Mexico or Texas. The failed proposal called for $1.4 million through the end of June to send some 300 inmates to other jails.

The detention center was designed to hold 2,236 inmates. The population hovered around 2,500 recently.

Crowding has plagued the jail system for decades. A federal civil-rights lawsuit was filed in 1995 and continues today.

Under Parker's order, the county is also being asked for a plan to keep inmates who have committed acts of violence separate from those who haven't.

"The health and safety of inmates at the MDC can be significantly improved by better management practices," Parker said in his order.


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As for Torgerson, he wants the county's five commissioners, county attorneys and representatives for the inmates to attend a settlement conference on May 2. The confidential talks could last all day.

County Attorney Randy Autio said commissioners aren't typically required to attend settlement conferences, "but we will cooperate fully and attempt to resolve any issues we can."

Zach Ives, an attorney for inmates, had no comment Friday.

The county has repeatedly tried to ease crowding in the jail system. Efforts included building a new detention center about 10 years ago to replace one in downtown Albuquerque and expanding a court-run program last year to divert some offenders from jail by placing them under supervision as they await trial.

The county spends about $63 million a year operating the detention center.

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