Some New Mexico Lawmakers Oppose Private Prisons | Local News

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Private prisons were criticized in a legislative hearing on Tuesday, with several lawmakers arguing that the motive for profit does not lie with operations to house, punish and rehabilitate inmates.

The state is already aiming to take over three of New Mexico’s five private prisons, leaving entrepreneurs with a significantly reduced role in those facilities. But some members of the Legislative Finance Committee want all state prisons to be fully state owned as soon as possible.

The call for the state to eliminate private establishments became more acute when the discussion turned to contracts requiring companies to be paid at a minimum occupancy rate – typically 80% – even as declining employment rates. incarceration in recent years has caused the prison population to fall below this level. .

State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said the primary goals of prisons should be to deter crime, protect the public from dangerous offenders, and rehabilitate inmates to the extent possible – and that private entrepreneurs seem to have a different priority.

“I don’t think these goals are consistent with the profit goal,” Sedillo Lopez said.

Sedillo Lopez said the data presented to the committee focused on how private prisons save money, as if that was the only significant policy consideration. But she would like an estimate of the intangible costs to a community of these prisons paying their workers less and offering fewer benefits, as well as skimping on rehabilitation programs.

Charles Sallee, a tax analyst for the committee, said both public and private prisons would lack rehabilitation. But private prisons would inject less money into a community in the form of money for health care and employee pensions, Sallee said.

The state is expected to take control of the Guadalupe County Correctional Center in Santa Rosa and the Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Center near Grants on November 1. In 2019, he took control of the northeastern New Mexico detention center in Clayton.

The trend is quite different from the path New Mexico followed decades ago when it began housing inmates in private facilities. At the time, it was hailed by supporters as a way to effectively house inmates and perhaps limit the problems New Mexico faced before and after the deadly and gruesome riot at the New Mexico Penitentiary in south of Santa Fe, where 33 died in February 1980.

When he begins overseeing the Santa Rosa and Northwestern prisons, only 24.5% of the state’s prison beds will be under the auspices of private operators.

Tax analysts on the committee said private prisons are run more efficiently than public facilities, in part because their lower staff-to-inmate ratios allow them to hire fewer people.

Transitioning three prisons to state control alone cost $ 4.1 million in 2022 and $ 6.1 million in 2023. After that, they will add up to $ 10 million in annual costs. .

Margaret Brown Vega of AVID, a group of volunteers who visit immigrant detainees at the Otero County treatment center, wants to go further.

The state should close private prisons and then impose a blanket ban on all those prisons, including those used by federal agencies, Brown Vega said.

Private contractors who can no longer house inmates will instead house immigrant inmates to fill the void, she said.

“The only concern with these facilities is to fill the beds,” said Brown Vega.

Sedillo Lopez said she did not believe the state had the power to deny federal authorities places in prisons.

Nathan Craig, another AVID volunteer, said several states, such as Illinois and California, have general bans on private prisons, including federal prisons.

The federal government could challenge such a ban, Craig said, but there are precedents.

Secretary of State for Corrections Alisha Tafoya Lucero said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham aims to reduce the state’s use of private prisons. But eliminating them altogether is impractical and could have a serious effect on communities where people depend on these prison jobs, she said.

“I think the conversation is not as easy as ‘Let’s just close the doors’,” said Tafoya Lucero.

Representative Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, echoed those sentiments.

“Whether we like it or not, people are going to be incarcerated,” Alcon said. “We can’t just shut down facilities because we don’t like who runs the facility.”

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