The Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque is not a prison, it’s a jail.
What’s the difference? Everyone in prison is there serving a sentence imposed after they were convicted of a crime. In a jail, there are some convicted prisoners, but a large proportion of the inmates are still awaiting trial. This means, legally, they are still innocent people.
This is an important distinction, but one that implies not a whit of difference: prisoners and detainees, the guilty and the innocent, are all entitled to basic human rights.
Here is an example. Again, a substantial portion of the populations in prisons and jails are people with serious mental illness and/or problems with substance abuse and addiction. And all of them, by the rules of human decency and the U.S. Constitution are entitled to competent treatment.
And yet, according to sources and emails cited by our guest today, investigative reporter Austin Fisher of Source New Mexico, on some work shifts at the MDC (the Metropolitan Detention Center) just “a single nurse [was] covering both detox and psychiatric care — or “there was “no detox nurse at all.” This, in a jail which had seen eight inmates die in just five months, half of them while in detox.
For months, defense attorneys told Fisher, the MDC had no medical director or on-site physician.
What this added up to, said an outside medical expert called in to assess care at the MDC was substantially deficient” care, which he said, may have contributed to “several deaths.”
The expert, Dr. Robert Greifinger, visited MDC over a six month period and saw no improvement in a crisis situation. In fact, he predicted, the replacement of the medical care contractor was likely to make things worse, a prediction many resigning nurses say, has come true.
Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.