Updated: January 28, 2021 06:24 PM
Created: January 28, 2021 05:43 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State lawmakers are taking up a bill that would discontinue the use of privately operated prison facilities in New Mexico. This comes a few days after President Biden issued a similar executive order.
House Bill 40 aims to phase out privately owned facilities when contracts end. There are currently seven of those contracts in New Mexico—four with the New Mexico Department of Corrections (NMDC), and three with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“They were accepted here in New Mexico as a tool for economic development and creating jobs, which has been a waste of taxpayer money as these institutions pay very little, provide few benefits and result in horrifying conditions,” said Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-District 35).
Rep. Rubio is a cosponsor of the bill. She said now is the perfect time to begin the transition to state operate facilities. HB 40 would allow up to five years for that transition.
“We know that private prisons are profit motivated, and so we see higher levels of abuse, more neglect—this isn't just for prisoners or the folks who are detained inside. We also see lack of accountability and transparency,” said Adriel Orozco, executive director and attorney at the Immigrant Law Center.
The bill was discussed in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee Thursday. Some people expressed concerns over the fact that NMDC would lose 3,000 beds.
“When it is safe and reasonable to convert a private facility into a public facility, we absolutely will as we did in Clayton in 2019. But doing so requires significant planning, staffing and ultimately significant fiscal resources,” said Alisha Tafoya Lucero, secretary of NMDC.
Other representatives raised concerned over the potential economic devastation of losing a private facility, like the one in Torrance County. In some rural parts of the state, those facilities are the entire town and could put hundreds of people out of work.
Even with those concerns, HB 40 passed the committee.
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