Many New Mexicans are being told to stay at home and distance themselves from others to minimize the cases of COVID-19 in the state. But that’s not an option for those stuck in jails and prisons, who usually have close contact with each other in tight spaces. Expanding on an earlier episode, this conversation is all about the dangers that these inmates face – as well as the staff who oversee them and the community at large.
We start our conversation with Jeff Proctor from the Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth. He tells us how New Mexico is responsible for the well-being and health care of inmates, and how the state is lacking in both testing and releasing inmates per the Governor’s executive order.
Mariaelena Lopez, who lost her mother to COVID-19, talks about her brother, who caught the virus just before his incarceration at the Bernallio Metropolitan Detention Center. She sheds some light on her warnings to the jail's staff and says they failed to tell her brother that he tested positive for the virus.
Lalita Moskowitz, an attorney for the ACLU gives us insight into the state’s Supreme Court denying a petition for the release of people in N.M. prisons who meet certain criteria, what she thinks of it, and who they were hoping to get released.
Monique Valdez’ husband is incarcerated in Santa Rosa. She gives us perspective on the changes the virus brought for inmates there, and her concerns for both her husband and others behind the walls.
Finally, Eva Buschwald is a school social worker that has worked the majority of her career in juvenile defense. She emphasizes her concern about the incarcerated youth as COVID-19 cases surge outside and inside correctional systems nationwide.
KUNM News Director Hannah Colton gives us updates on some of her earlier reporting on jails and prisons during the pandemic:
New Mexico has 31 detention facilities operated by various counties — that includes jails and juvenile detentions. The number of people held in county detention facilities has dropped by just over one-third since the start of the pandemic, according to the New Mexico Association of Counties. They say that population is down statewide from nearly 6,000 in mid-March to about 3,900 at the start of May. Out of the 10 largest county detention centers, Sandoval County has reduced its population the most, percentage-wise, shrinking by nearly two-thirds.
Out of the 3900 county detainees statewide, only 375 have been tested for the coronavirus, most of them in in Bernalillo, McKinley and Santa Fe Counties. Eight inmates have tested positive as of this week—three in the Bernalillo County jail, two in Santa Fe, and one each in McKinley, Rio Arriba and Otero Counties.
Four staff have tested positive—all at the McKinley County jail, according to the Association. And no one from any of the 31 county jails has been hospitalized or died.
In mid-April, inmate Andrew Miller told Colton over the phone about crowded dorm-style unit he lived in at the Central New Mexico prison, where he said inmates aren’t given soap or masks or reliable information about the pandemic. The next week, an advocate who’s often in touch with inmates there told us Miller was punished for speaking out—that he was put in solitary confinement and had privileges like phone calls revoked.
In an email response this week, Corrections Department spokesperson Eric Harrison said Miller was disciplined for reasons unrelated to that phone interview. He said the Corrections Department does not practice retaliation, and that discipline can stem from things like having contraband, dangerous drugs, making threats against staff and “other reasons.”
Jails / prisons / juvenile justice facilities response to our questions:
- We reached out to the Bernalillo County jail for comment earlier this week and again today. They sent us an email link to an FAQ page on the jail’s website. According to that page, three people incarcerated in the jail tested positive. One person recovered. Two people were released. None of the cases were contracted inside the jail, according to the FAQ.
- The Children, Youth and Families Department sent an emailed statement saying: No young person in an N.M. juvenile detention center has tested positive for COVID-19. No staff member has either. Anyone showing symptoms has been tested and put in a unit away from other young people while waiting results. Any staff members who had contact with someone who was COVID positive or who had traveled were asked to self-isolate. They plan to roll out surveillance testing next week. An in-depth report will be available on CYFD’s website tomorrow, Friday, May 8.
- The Department of Corrections sent an emailed statement saying they’re continuing to review eligible individuals for early release, and as of today, Thursday, may 7, 34 people have been released.
More news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the CDC—drafted detailed guidelines for reopening states, according to the New York Times, but the Trump administration blocked them from being published, calling them "overly prescriptive".
In New Mexico, the lockdown in Gallup is extended until Sunday at noon at the request of the city’s mayor. And all residents are required to wear masks when they go to businesses, according to KOB. It’s still too early to know whether the lockdown is helping slow the spread there, according to Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary David Scrase.
There are 204 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state today, making the total 4,493, according to the Santa Fe Reporter. Officials also report three deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities here to 172.
Albuquerque police are busting people who are in city parks after hours, and since the start of the pandemic, have issued 58 citations, according to KOAT.
We’re keeping a full list of the resources and volunteer opportunities that we find for each episode at bit.ly./YNMGhub. And here’s what we got from today.
- People in prison or jail—or their families—can reach out to Millions For Prisoners New Mexico through Facebook or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Friends and Family of Incarcerated Persons
How are things going for you? We want to know. Share your quarantine stories by calling: (505) 218-7084 and leaving us a message. We could roll them into a future episode.
Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the New Mexico Local News Fund.