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ACLU Says Prison Assault Cases In N.M. Are Due To Systemic Failures

The New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility in Grants. Lawyers say neither of the women's prisons in the state adequately investigate allegations of abuse and that both perpetuate a culture of retaliation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico on Monday, Nov. 4, filed the third in a series of lawsuits charging that prison guards are sexually assaulting and abusing women who are locked up. All three lawsuits say these individual cases are part of a larger systemic problem in the state’s Department of Corrections.

Former prison guard Benny Chee last year pleaded guilty to raping a woman in the state prison in Grants. The new lawsuit says she’d become pregnant during the assault and later had a miscarriage while she was incarcerated.

ACLU Staff Attorney Lalita Moskowitz said inside New Mexico’s women’s prisons, sexual abuse is normalized, ignored and dismissed. "One of the big issues that keeps coming forward is that staff very often retaliate against folks who do report this kind of abuse," she said. "Which means we can be pretty certain that more is happening than we even know about, because they’re so afraid of being retaliated against for reporting."

That could look like even more abuse, according to the lawsuit, or guards taking away someone’s good-time credits, which means more time in prison. Protocols aimed at preventing rape aren’t being followed in the prison, the suit states, like rules about video cameras and guards not having unsupervised time alone with an inmate.

Moskowitz says ex-guard Chee no longer works for the Department of Corrections but didn’t serve any time himself.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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