FARMINGTON, N.M.—A large number of furloughs being granted to inmates at the San Juan County jail has led to worries that inmates are bringing contraband back into the jail.

Jail records show judges have allowed more than 300 inmates to take furloughs for various reasons this year. They include medical treatment, to attend funerals or seek work.

The Farmington Daily Times reported ( Sunday that records show most requests are granted.

Returning inmates have been caught smuggling drugs and other items, Adult Detention Center administrator Tom Havel said. One returning inmate was found with a tattoo gun hidden in a body cavity and later collapsed.

Jail officials suspect a package containing drugs broke inside his body.

Five inmates failed to return from furloughs this year and were charged with attempted escape.

The inmates, through motions filed by their attorneys, ask for furloughs for a variety of reasons.

The majority of furlough requests filed in San Juan County are granted. According to jail records, 317 of the 390 requests filed this year were granted, or 80 percent. Furlough records kept at the Aztec District Court showed additional requests that were denied that were not included in jail records. District court records showed 220 of 371 furlough request, or 60 percent, were granted.

Magistrate and municipal judges also grant furloughs from the county detention center.

"It is pretty typical for the court to be somewhat lenient on work searches," said Eric Morrow, a Farmington defense attorney.

Most inmates who receive furloughs from the county jail for work searches have been convicted or accused of lower-level felonies and misdemeanors and are likely headed for probation, Morrow said.

Chief District Judge John Dean, who granted 107 furloughs this year, said he judges an inmate's furlough request based on inmates.

"I look at the charges and if there is a history of warrants for failure to appear and seriousness of the crimes," Dean said.

Inmates who have been granted a furlough usually leave the jail at 8 a.m. and are told what time to return, according to jail records.

There is no GPS monitoring or supervision when the inmates leave the jail, and jail officials said some inmates will try to bring drugs, tobacco or other contraband back in with them.

Returning inmates go through a similar booking process as new inmates and often have to wait in a booking cell for up to three days. That helps guards better check to see if they are smuggling or ill before they are transferred to general population, Havel said.

"As the administrator, of course I don't want them to go on furlough," Havel said. "But I wouldn't second-guess a judge. I will follow the judge's directions to a 'T.'"


Information from: The Daily Times,