February 24, 2017

Senators quiz then confirm new state Corrections chief

Senators on Friday unanimously confirmed David Jablonski as the new secretary of the Corrections Department but he still faced several questions about the controversies that shadowed his predecessor’s resignation last year.

Gov. Susana Martinez tapped Jablonski to head the state’s prison, probation and parole system at the end of October, when Secretary Gregg Marcantel stepped down after five years capped by several high-profile slip-ups, budget cuts that strained staff and mounting tensions with the union representing corrections officers.

The relatively smooth confirmation Friday signaled that lawmakers are looking for a turnaround in an agency roiled by successive crises.

Lawmakers suggested, for example, that the state had failed in its oversight of a private contractor previously hired to provide health care to inmates.

Citing an investigation by The New Mexican last year that revealed a questionable death, allegations of inadequate care and a pile of resulting lawsuits under the former contractor, Corizon, Sen. Jeff Steinborn urged Jablonski to ensure greater accountability from the new provider, Centurion.

“It’s good to hear that we have a new provider. The bigger problem, I think, is the oversight issue,” Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, told the secretary during an hour-long confirmation hearing.

Department employees, Steinborn added, were aware of problems with Corizon before media reports.

After finger pointing last year between the Corrections Department and the court system over the missing probation records of a suspect in the grisly murder of 10-year-old Albuquerque girl Victoria Martens, Chairwoman Linda Lopez asked what the agency has done to prevent future such mistakes.

Though department officials previously said they never got the files, seeming to pass the blame for allowing the suspect to evade probation despite his sentence, Jablonski said he does not dispute the documents were sent to the agency but suggested a computer problem meant the documents were never received.

“It’s about our end, on the IT aspect,” he said.

Jablonski told the committee the department has changed its procedures for receiving probation records from the courts and reviewed about 7,000 cases from the months around that incident to see if anyone else slipped through the cracks. He says the department did not find any similar problems with other cases.

Following the controversies of the past year and succeeding a secretary who took on a high-profile with regular appearances on reality television shows, Jablonski has marked a change in personality at the top of the department as it grapples with a growing inmate population and chronic under staffing.

One of several new members of governor’s cabinet, Jablonski is a veteran of both the Corrections Department and the Martinez administration. He most recently worked as deputy superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, managing various state regulatory authorities. He also served as a member of the governor’s executive staff, overseeing agencies including the Corrections Department the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Before joining the Martinez administration in 2011, he had worked with the Corrections Department for about 14 years, rising from the post of probation officer to director of the probation and parole division.

As head of the Corrections Department, he will be paid a salary of about $123,000.

Jablonski is a graduate of The University of New Mexico, where he studied criminal justice. He also is a decorated U.S. Air Force veteran.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.