Report finds Torrance County Detention Center ‘unsafe’ and ‘understaffed’

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TORRANCE COUNTY, N.M. – We’re hearing new reaction Saturday, after a scathing report, released Friday, heavily criticized the Torrance County Detention Center.

The U.S. Inspector General’s office says the conditions for inmates there in Estancia are inhumane, and staffing is dangerously low. The company who operates the facility, and ICE are pushing-back against those claims.

The recommendation from the investigator is to remove all inmates from the facility until the problems are fixed.

The 19-page report from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General showed mold growing on the ceilings and floors from water leaks, toilets and sinks that don’t work and critically low staffing levels at about half of what they need to be, leading to safety concerns.

The report was an unannounced inspection of the Torrance County Detention Center in Estancia, a facility that mostly houses ICE detainees. The conditions so bad that the investigator said all detainees at the facility need to be moved out, essentially shutting down the facility until it’s fixed.

Torrance County Sheriff Martin Rivera says if the facility was shut down, it would be detrimental to the town and also his deputies.

"It would be a very significant impact. It does take deputies off the street for a little bit longer, and we also have to transport state police prisoners if they are arrested in our county also," said Rivera.

If the detention center did have to shutdown it wouldn’t be the first time, the sheriff said it happened back in 2017. Rivera had to hire people to transport the inmates to Santa Fe County. He says it also hurt the small town of Estancia.

"It affected even some of the stores in Estancia because there was not the normal traffic going there and buying stuff," he said.

But many organizations have said this shut down needs to happen.

"The report is damning but it’s not surprising."

Setareh Ghandehari with the Detention Watch Network has spoken out against the facility before and wants to take it a step further, saying not only should it be shut down, but those detained by immigration enforcement should be released.

"We are calling on the Biden Administration on ICE to immediately release all people from Torrance, not transfer them but actually release them. To shut down the facility for good and to begin phasing out immigration detention entirely," said Ghandehari.

As mentioned before, ICE and "CoreCivics" — the company that operates the facility — are fighting back against the report, claiming a lot of what was said is false. They say they’re not short-staffed and have enough workers for the number of inmates and they claim the pictures that shown in the report– that’s happening in areas where no one is housed.

They are now asking for an immediate review of the conduct of the inspectors — which they say is "unethical".

But this is not the first controversy at the Torrance County Detention Facility. In May 2020 – inmates say they were pepper sprayed by officers in full riot gear. They say it happened after they staged a hunger strike, because of bad food and other questionable conditions.