NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico is transitioning from depending on private companies to run prisons to state takeover. However, one group believes the move is worrying.
The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project (NMPJP) supports the abolition of privately run prisons. However, the group warns that conditions in state prisons may not improve with the state takeover.
“It doesn’t necessarily change the way people are treated or improve the way those systems work,” said New Mexico Prison and Jail Project director Steven Robert Allen.
The group points to another problem — the state is still on the hook to rent these facilities.
In 2019, the state converted the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton from a private to a state facility, according to the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD). Then, in 2021, New Mexico took control of the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants. The Guadalupe Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa was also converted in 2021. Although the New Mexico Correctional Authority now controls these prisons, it pays rent to the same companies that used to run them.
The state is paying CoreCivic more than $2 million to lease the facility in Grants and more than $4 million to GEO Group for the Santa Rosa facility. While the city of Clayton gets almost $6 million for renting its prison.
Allen added: “They’re still making money. What is the difference? What is being done here?”
Allen said he would prefer to see some of the prisons closed to focus on and improve a few facilities, especially as New Mexico’s prison population is declining. “Ultimately, we would like to see some of these prisons closed and put more resources into the people who remain. Provide them with better education, better job training, and better substance abuse treatment,” Allen said.
The group said this would help detainees avoid returning to the system when they do get out. “If we care about public safety, if we care about reducing crime, then we have to care about how these people are treated,” Allen said.
The state hopes the change will allow them to offer employees better wages and benefits while improving safety. According to NMCD, the conversion of the three private facilities created 300 government jobs.
There are now eight state-operated facilities and two remaining privately owned facilities. The last private facilities are the Lea County Correctional Facility and the Otero County Prison Facility.