Families of Rio Arriba’s juvenile detainees may soon have to travel to San Juan County to visit incarcerated children.

In response to the possible closure of the Santa Fe County Juvenile Detention Center—where Rio Arriba historically housed its juvenile detainees—the Rio Arriba County Commission unanimously approved a contract to house them in San Juan’s facility in Aztec, 170 miles from Española.

The contract requires Rio Arriba to pay $225 per day for each juvenile inmate, not including costs of medical care. Rio Arriba’s contract with Santa Fe was for $185 per day.

“It’s high—the price is high,” County Attorney Adan Trujillo said. “They weren’t willing to budge as to the rate.”

He said Assistant Detention Center Administrator Jose Gallegos reached out to other counties for a potential contract without success—Bernalillo was not accepting new detainees due to a facility remodel, Taos’ juvenile detention center closed and San Miguel did not respond.

He said Rio Arriba currently has only one juvenile detainee and that they would continue to explore options other than this contract, which does not obligate Rio Arriba to use San Juan’s facility exclusively.

Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office Captain Billy Merrifield said the County averages about eight juvenile inmates and that increased mileage for Rio Arriba deputies transporting them to and from court in Santa Fe and Tierra Amarilla would be an additional cost.

San Juan County Public Information Officer Devin Neeley said their facility has capacity for 46 juveniles.

“We do not expect any added strain to our system based on the proposed agreements with other counties,” he said.

Neeley said the juvenile facility offers in-person visits only. He said that contrary to recent media reports, the adult detention center did not recently end in-person visits. He said the adult facility had not allowed in-person visits since it opened in 2005 and that the recently reported change was an expansion of their video visitation policy, allowing video chats with inmates remotely through an app rather than requiring people to use a video service physically at the jail.

County Manager Tomas Campos said the contract at this point was still “a backup plan.”

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