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Lawmakers and corrections officials debate prison mail access

Diana Crowson, whose son is in prison, speaks to the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee in Santa Fe on July 27
Alice Fordham
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Diana Crowson, whose son is in prison, speaks to the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee in Santa Fe on July 27

Since February this year, people in prison in New Mexico have not been able to receive physical mail. Correspondents must write to an address in Florida, and inmates receive scanned versions of most letters, after processing by a private company.

Lawmakers questioned corrections officials about the costs and benefits of this initiative Wednesday.

Director of the Adult Prisons Division Gary Maciel told lawmakers the step was necessary because inmates were receiving drugs in the mail.

"They even began sending letters soaked in fentanyl, synthetic cannabinoids," he said.

Wence Asonganyi, health services administrator for the Corrections Department, told the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee that the changes were necessary after an increase in the number of people becoming ill from drug overdoses.

He said that since physical mail stopped arriving, the number of overdoses had fallen.

Source New Mexico reported earlier this year that the Florida company managing the mail, Securus, charges the state $3.50 per month for each prisoner in the state’s prisons, whether or not they receive mail.

Fiscal analyst Ellen Rabin from the Legislative Finance Committee said that drug test positivity rates have not gone down since physical mail stopped coming in to prisons. Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, expressed skepticism about the risks from mail.

"The mail is not usually the primary delivery method or a vehicle for drugs to get into prisons," she said, adding that research suggests cutting inmates off from their families can increase recidivism.

"It seems so draconian to suddenly find that inmates could no longer get drawings from their kids," she said.

The committee also heard from the mother of an inmate, Diana Crowson, who said that under the new system, some mail isn't arriving in any form.

"I have sent over 10 letters to my son, out of those 10 letters he has received four and this is since February," she said.

The committee plans to ask the secretary of the Corrections Department Alisha Tafoya Lucero about this at another hearing in the next few weeks, the exact timing is unconfirmed.

This reporting was made possible by the WK Kellogg foundation and KUNM listeners

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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