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N.M. Corrections Department Aims To Slightly Reduce Prison Populations

Hannah Colton / KUNM
Protestors with Millions For Prisoners NM gathered outside the Los Lunas prison for a COVID-safe #FreeThemAll rally on April 24, 2020.


Correction, 8/13: The original headline for this story read: "N.M. Corrections Department Expected To Release 300 Prisoners By The End Of July." An NMCD spokesperson now says that figure was based on inaccurate reporting by KOAT-TV in early July about the department's intentions. We've detailed the misunderstanding below, and will update this story as we learn more. 

Since early April, protestors have been out every Friday calling for inmates to be freed from prisons and jails, where hygiene products can be scarce and social distancing often impossible.

On April 6, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order outlining eligibility for early release.  


On July 11, KOAT-TV reported thatCorrections Department officialssaid they had new initiatives as of that week "to try to reduce the population behind bars by 5% by the end of July." Based on an inmate population of 6,250 listed on the department's website, that would have meant releasing about 300 more people. 


At a press conference on Thursday, July 23, KUNM asked Lujan Grisham about those figures, and  she responded that she’d make sure the department was on track to reduce the population by 5%, “because we have the ability to do that,” she said. “We think it’s responsible, smart, and an effective way to both protect our population, our workers, and do the right criminal justice impacts and reforms to do.”


However, NMCD spokesperson Eric Harrison told KUNM on August 13 that the July 11 KOAT article had inaccurately reported the department's intentions. He said the goal was not to reduce the population by 5% by the end of July, but rather to be operating at 75% capacity, which would have been a reduction from being at 80% capacity the month before. The department did not meet that goal before the end of July.

Harrison said that 100% capacity for the state's prisons would be 7,938 inmates. 


As of August 13, 130 prisoners have been released under the governor's April order. 


Corrections Department officials say they’re working to release inmates with severe medical conditions, those over age 60 who are high-risk for COVID complications, and people locked up for technical probation and parole violations who aren’t deemed a threat to public safety.



UPDATE 8/25, 6p: This story has been updated with the total capacity of the state's prisons, according to NMCD: 7,938.

Support for KUNM's public health coverage comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and from listeners like you. 

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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