Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Nightmare for the defenseless.

Byline: Stories by Mike Gallagher Journal Investigative Reporter

Paying for Time

Hundreds of prisoners in New Mexico's local jails suffer from mental illness or disability. Others have serious medical problems. Jails aren't really set up to handle these prisoners and have a tough time coping with them. The prisoners, and taxpayers, pay a price that is sometimes shocking. This is part three of a four-part series.

Jail is no place for mentally or physically ill

Most people booked into county jails are released within 24 hours.

They never experience the boredom, bland food or noise of a jail cellblock. They never experience the horror that other inmates sometimes live.

What happened to Norman Tracey goes beyond horror.

The 46-year-old developmentally disabled man was booked into the Valencia County Detention Center on May 26, 1996, by sheriff's deputies who suspected him of setting fires.

"Deputies didn't know what to do with him so they took him to jail," said his attorney, Paul Kennedy. "The jail didn't know what to do with him either. He certainly didn't belong there."

Five years ago, the Valencia County Detention Center was a 30-cell hellhole where inmates routinely stabbed and beat one another. Escapes were common. The local grand jury for years had reported the jail was a "dungeon" and said it should be closed.

"That jail should have been shut down in the 1970s," Kennedy said. "It was a pest hole."

The day after his arrest, Tracey was placed in a cell in the rear of the jail where maximum-security inmates were normally held. His cellmate was awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

Tracey's mother, Emma, came to the jail several times over the next few days.

According to a lawsuit filed later, she told jail officers her son was unable to protect himself because of his disabilities.

On June 1, six days after Tracey's arrest, an anonymous caller telephoned Emma and told her something bad was happening to her son. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.