prison

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The New Mexico Corrections Department has released 92 prisoners since the COVID pandemic began, state officials said Thursday, and in the next week, that number could triple. The expected bump in releases follows months of demands from advocates.

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COVID-19 spreads most easily in confined spaces with lots of people, so at least a dozen states have released hundreds or thousands of prisoners early to reduce outbreaks in incarcerated populations. In New Mexico’s largest state prison in Otero County, about 80% of inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. In April, the governor announced that some prisoners would be released to stem the spread of COVID-19, but the state prisoners still in Otero County are not eligible for release because they have a sex offense on their record. Journalist Jeff Proctor with the Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth published a report last week about the coronavirus outbreak in the Otero County Detention Center. He spoke to KUNM’s Kaveh Mowahed about why only 71 inmates have been released statewide, and why none of them were in Otero County.

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

In episode 76, we discuss criminal justice reform, from policing to prisons. We get a preview of the Albuquerque mayor and a city councilor plans to remake the public safety system. A criminal justice reporter tells us about COVID-19 in state prisons and reminds us that there is little race or ethnicity data to show us who is affected. But first, YNMG Executive Producer Marisa Demarco tells us what it was like to be at a protest this week where someone she knows was shot by a man trying to protect a statue of a genocidal Spanish conquistador. 

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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.

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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.

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For years, people who’d been in New Mexico prisons brought lawsuits and allegations about dangerously bad medical care, as well as sexual abuse by a prison doctor. According to The Santa Fe New Mexican, a report just came to light detailing the Department of Corrections failures—even though the state’s been trying to hide it.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed a second lawsuit Monday, July 29, on behalf of a woman who says she was subject to repeated sexual abuse from a corrections officer while she was in the Springer prison. The lawsuit says her complaints weren’t taken seriously by prison administration, and the accused officer maintains his job and position today.

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State lawmakers just passed restrictions on solitary confinement, the first of their kind in the state. If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs them into law, New Mexico prisons and jails will have rules about who they can isolate. 

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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.

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When people are behind bars, the government is responsible for their health care. That’s in the U.S. Constitution. Anything less is considered cruel and unusual punishment. But New Mexico has a history of struggling to meet that obligation. Lawsuits about deaths and permanent health damage pile up.

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The state fired the private company in charge of prisoner health care and gave the contract to another company after a 2016 investigation into dangerously bad medical care in prisons by the Santa Fe New Mexican. But in the two years since the change, millions of dollars in fines have been leveled against the new private health care provider. 

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New Mexico has the second-highest recidivism rate in the country, with half of its former inmates landing back behind prison bars within three years. To shrink those numbers, the state House passed a measure that would require jails and prisons to make sure inmates have access to behavioral health services.

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The Santa Fe Juvenile Justice Board is hearing an update on its budget Thursday. The city plans to continue directing funds towards programs that aim to keep kids out of the criminal justice system.

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There are 13 federal prisons around the United States that are run by private companies. One of them is in New Mexico. And today the Department of Justice said it’s going to stop using corporations to run federal prisons.

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The company that handles medical services for prisoners in the state—Corizon Health—is facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by inmates who say care is inadequate. A series in the Santa Fe New Mexican investigates whether state officials have been ignoring warning signs or have done an inadequate job overseeing Corizon. 

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KUNM Call In Show 4/7 8a: The level of crime in our cities makes many New Mexicans feel unsafe. And disturbing violent crimes have dominated our attention recently. Is our system working to make New Mexico safer?

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The number of people being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border has risen drastically over the last couple of decades. And the penalty can include lengthy stays behind bars. But where do all these inmates go? 

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

The number of people who are behind bars in America is much bigger than it was 40 years ago. In fact, it’s five times higher. That means a lot more parents are doing time, and having a record can limit people’s ability to get a job, find a place to live and provide for their kids. A local program is trying to help dads get around the obstacles and back on track with their families.

Generation Justice

Inmates and their relatives pay steep phone bills to keep in touch, and prison phone companies rake in billions. The Federal Communications Commission moved to cap those rates last week because it isn’t only the inmate who pays the price.

Prison Phone Justice

Oct 14, 2015
MAG-Net

Sun. 10/18 7p: Tune in to hear what Prison Phone Justice is and how an upcoming FCC vote could be a huge victory for millions! We’ll be chatting with Steven Renderos from the Center for Media Justice, and Carrie Wilkinson who helped start the Washington Prison Phone Justice Campaign. We will also share powerful testimonies, including that of Jazlin Mendoza, a GJ youth member who recently spoke at a Congressional hearing about the #RightToConnect!

Call In Show: Criminal Justice Reform

Jul 29, 2015
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The nation’s prison system is in crisis. Prison and jail populations ballooned to an all-time high, and the number of people on probation and parole has doubled.

Meanwhile, we're spending more on incarceration than we ever have—and most of that money comes out of the states’ pockets.

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

Just about every woman who finds herself behind bars in New Mexico will get out eventually. The question is, will she be able to restart her life, rejoin her family? There aren’t enough services in this state for all the women who want to break the cycles that landed them in jail or prison.

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For hundreds of people in New Mexico, getting out of jail or prison hinges on whether there’s a bed in a halfway house, a slot in a treatment program or space in a mental health facility. Until a spot opens up, they remain behind bars, and it costs taxpayers thousands of extra dollars while they wait.

The use of solitary confinement on people with mental illness is costing counties millions of dollars. The most famous example is Stephen Slevin, who was awarded $22 million after spending nearly two years in solitary in the Doña Ana County jail. KUNM's Public Health New Mexico Project developed a three-part series on the use of segregation around the state, looking at jails, prisons, mental health and incarceration, and recidivism. 

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Female inmates are the fastest-growing prison population in the state. New moms and pregnant women who are heading to jail could be affected by legislation proposed this session. 

Sen. Lisa Torraco’s bill would do two things: One, it would allow new moms to pump their breast milk while they’re in jail or prison, so it can be given to their babies. 

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Members of a National Academy of Sciences committee presented a report on high incarceration rates at the State Bar of New Mexico this morning. The NAS says the growth in lockups in the United States is historically unprecedented and unlike any other country in the world.

The U.S. has too many people behind bars, according to the NAS report, and the high rate of imprisonment has surpassed any public safety benefit.