Thursday, September 17, 2009
Warden Lyons retires to Holly Springs
By STELLA DAVIS
CARLSBAD, N.M. – Eddy County Detention Center Warden D.P. Lyons has announced his retirement, 30 months after taking the helm at the detention center.
Lyons will leave his position and return to Holly Springs, Miss., where he still has a home.
He said he plans to teach a criminal justice course two days a week at the college in Holly Springs, try to relax and take each day as it comes.
The Eddy County Commission this week expressed their appreciation for the work Lyons has done during his short tenure in bringing the detention center recognition as a first-rate facility, and wished there was a way to change his mind about retiring.
“I couldn’t have done it without the commission’s support,” Lyons said. “In my 36 years working in corrections, I have never worked with a governing body that put the detention center on equal footing with other county departments. Generally, jails are treated as a stepchild in terms of funding.”
When Lyons took the helm in December of 2006, he hit the ground running and laid out his goal to make the detention center a “first-class” institution that would be proactive against litigation by inmates and foster pride and professionalism in the corrections officers working at the facility.
Within weeks of coming on board, Lyons had submitted an action plan to the commission with deadlines for him to achieve and the goals he had set for himself.
Did he meet those goals?
County leaders replied with an unequivocal “Yes,” that resulted in a smile from Lyons.
Within the first week he was on the job, Lyons’ first order of business was getting the detention center into spic and span condition. The floors were brought to a high shine, dust was wiped clean and potential fire and health hazards were eliminated.
“That’s the way it is going to stay,” he said at the time and he did not renege on his promise.
The housekeeping issues were the easy part. Promoting unity, team work and leadership within the ranks of the detention officers, and ensuring that the facility was in compliance with its own rules and regulations, as well as New Mexico laws, was his next task.
Lyons developed an in-house training program for corrections officers to ensure they knew the laws and to avoid potential lawsuits by inmates. He spent hours writing policy and procedures for the juvenile detention center based on the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department’s requirements and the American Corrections Standards.
With that completed, Lyons turned his attention to writing policy and procedures based on the 75 standards of the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare to attain national accreditation for the detention center’s medical department. He also developed policy and procedures for the adult facility based on the American Corrections Association Standards. That would enable the county to move forward with national accreditation of the detention center, if a future commission decided to go that route.
“This commission looked at accreditation, but after we had an audit to see if it would be feasible, we found that it would be cost-prohibitive,” Lyons explained. “There are certain requirements that have to be met that include additional space and personnel. Although the county is not going to pursue accreditation of the detention center at this time, the policy and procedures will continue to be followed.”
While the commission is appreciative of Lyons’ efforts to keep the detention in compliance and lessen the potential for inmate litigation against the county, the commission has high praise for Lyons’ cost-cutting measures that have saved the county taxpayers thousands of dollars, yet at the same time, continued good care of inmates.
“Privatizing the jail’s food service saved the county $300,000 annually. I also was able to decrease the jail’s operating budget,” Lyons said when asked what he considered were his major accomplishments during his tenure. “I am also very proud of being able to save the county $28,000 to $30,000 a month farming county prisoners out to Texas.”
After assessing the detention center’s potential for creating more bed space in the center, Lyons suggested to the commission that a storage area inside the facility could be converted into a 26-bed dormitory-style cell.
“We used in-house labor for most of the work. The total cost to convert the storage area was about $60,000. We had originally gone out to bid and the cost came in extremely high, so we decided to do most of the work ourselves,” Lyons said. “Once the dormitory was finished, we were able to bring the inmates back from Texas. We haven’t had to send any back since.”
Lyons also received approval from the commission to contract with medical providers specializing in correctional health and dental care that has saved the county thousands of dollars on inmate healthcare.
To take the job in Eddy County, Lyons came out of retirement after having worked for more than 30 years in corrections that included a stint in correction in New York’s Rikers Island – a city-operated jail with about 16,000 inmates. Lyons also worked in the U.S. and abroad for Wackenhut Corrections, a private company that builds and operates prisons, jails and security services.
Lyons said he applied for the Eddy County warden’s position because he couldn’t resist a challenge. However, he said this time, he is retiring from corrections work for good.
(Editor’s Note – This story was reprinted, with permission, from the August 23 edition of the Carlsbad Current-Argus in Carlsbad, New Mexico.)
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