FARMINGTON — The locked cells at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center can be revolving doors.

Inmates go in and out on a routine basis.

As of Oct. 10, local judges granted 317 furloughs from the county jail this year, according to jail records.

Most of the time, the ebb and flow doesn't cause problems.

Just five inmates didn't return from furloughs and were charged with a felony for attempting to escape from jail this year, according to the detention center.

Other inmates returned from their furlough as scheduled and were caught smuggling, which raises questions if the coming and going threatens security, said Tom Havel, the administrator of the detention center.

A prisoner's attempt to smuggle contraband into the detention center in September lead to a lengthy and costly trip to the emergency room.

Ronnie James, 37, was granted a furlough from the San Juan County Adult Detention Center by District Judge William Birdsall on Sept. 6 for medical reasons.

Farmington police arrested James in June for stealing a car and possessing drugs. While he was in jail he was linked and charged with a commercial burglary in Farmington.

He was granted a furlough to see a specialist to be treated for cirrhosis and Hepatitis C, according to court records.

He returned from his furlough a little after 5 p.m. He was on schedule, but jail guards found a tattoo gun inside him, Havel said.


"What do you do if a guy has it kiestered?" Havel said. "That's pretty graphic. But that's how they do it."

Jail officials confiscated the tattoo gun and placed James in a booking cell before he was reintegrated back into general population.

He collapsed in his cell and was taken to the emergency room for a three-day stay.

Jail officials can't say for certain why he collapsed, but they suspect he was trying to smuggle drugs into the jail and had an overdose when the drugs leaked into his blood stream, Havel said.

"We assume with pretty much certainty that it was some sort of narcotic," Havel said.

Furloughs are approved or denied by judges.

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

Most are seeking medical treatment. Others want a day's release to look for work or to attend a loved one's funeral.

The majority of furlough requests filed in San Juan County are granted. According to jail records, 317 of the 390 requests filed this 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," Eric Morrow, a Farmington defense attorney, said.

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.

The defense attorneys have to show the judge their client has a strong lead on a job in order to be released from jail, Morrow said.

Chief District Judge John Dean, whose 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 serious of the crimes," Dean said.

The number of granted furloughs doesn't tell the whole story, he said, because some inmates are granted numerous furloughs as they are treated for complex medical conditions that can't be treated in the jail.

"When people get out for a medical reason they usually realize that would be a big error in judgment" not to return, 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 know on few occasions inmates will try to bring drugs, tobacco or other contraband back in with them

When they come back they go through a similar booking process as new inmates, often they have to wait in a book cell for up to three days which 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'."