KUNM

Researchers Say N.M. Prisons Under-Report Use of Solitary

Feb 28, 2019

The United States imprisons a larger portion of its population than any other country in the world, and the use of solitary confinement is widespread. Here in New Mexico, the rate has been going down, but the American Civil Liberties Union released a study Thursday, Feb. 28, saying the numbers are much higher than the state reports.

One in 10 prisoners in New Mexico was in solitary in the fall, according to researchers at the University of New Mexico, who say that’s more than double than what the Corrections Department reported.

Researcher Barbara Gomez spoke at a news conference. "The state of New Mexico doesn’t have a very concise definition of what the practice of solitary confinement is," she said. "We know that the Corrections Department has published different rates that vary not just across years, but also even within the same month."

Gomez said the state doesn’t count many prisoners who spend 22 hours a day separated from the general population.  

A bill is making its way through the legislative session that would ban the use of segregation on youth and pregnant women, and limit it for people with mental illness.

Jail and prison officials contend solitary is necessary for the safety of their staffs and inmates.

A spokesperson emailed that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the reporting gap is troubling, and that she’s dismayed by the normalization of solitary confinement described by the study, calling it "flatly inhumane."

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The New Mexico Corrections Department says via email that officials there are unclear on what methodology the researchers used to find the discrepancy, and that today the rate of restrictive housing—another term for solitary—is 5.2 percent in the state.