New Mexico plans to close women’s prison in rural community

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico plans to close a women’s prison located in a small rural town and transfer the inmates and workers elsewhere, state officials say.

Timing and other details regarding the closure of the Springer Correctional Center in Springer remain to be determined, officials said Friday.

“Closure of the facility will allow for more fiscally responsible operation of the remaining state facilities, while maintaining safe housing for the inmate population,” Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said in a statement.

The most recent annual report posted on the Department of Corrections website for the 2019 fiscal year said the prison had an average daily population of 350.

Springer has about 1,000 residents and is located in Colfax County in northern New Mexico along Interstate 25 and 88 miles (142 kilometers) northeast of Santa Fe.

Springer Mayor Boe Lopez said he was disappointed by the news and its timing and said it will be hard to replace the prison’s 150 jobs, some held by workers who commute from Raton, Mora and Las Vegas.

Lopez said the decision was disclosed after the legislative session ended and the town didn’t get the chance to ask the Legislature for help.

The department’s statement referred to the prison as an aging facility first opened in 1909 with many of the current campus-style facilities built in 1960.

At least a dozen women inmates at the prison have filed lawsuits alleging they were sexually harassed, assaulted or raped by guards and then ignored or retaliated against when they reported the abuse to higher-ups who knew about it but did nothing.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sacket said the governor “is of course aware of and deeply concerned by the history of this facility” and considered it “an unacceptable pattern.”

Civil rights advocates and prisoner representatives who have called for closure of the prison welcomed the closure plans.

“In addition to systemic sexual violence perpetrated against the women detained there, the basic living conditions are truly horrible,” said Steven Robert Allen, director of the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of incarcerated people.