NM Supreme Court denies petition for early release of prisoners due to COVID-19 threat | KOB 4
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NM Supreme Court denies petition for early release of prisoners due to COVID-19 threat

KOB Web Staff
Updated: May 04, 2020 06:30 PM
Created: May 04, 2020 04:09 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- The New Mexico Supreme Court denied a petition from the ACLU and the New Mexico Public Defender's Office that would have forced the release more inmates from state prisons.

Attorneys for the ACLU and Public Defender's Office argued that keeping at-risk inmates in prison amounted to cruel and unusual punishment due to the threat of COVID-19.

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However, the court disagreed and denied the petition.

"The court unanimously finds that the answer is no -- that the respondents are not being deliberately indifferent to the health and safety of the inmates and for that reason, the court is denying the relief that is sought," said Chief Justice Judith Nakamura.

The governor had signed an executive order that allows for certain prisoners to be released early, but the ACLU argued that the order did not go far enough. KOB 4 learned at least 33 inmates have been released early under the governor's order so far.

In court, attorneys for the Department of Corrections revealed at least four employees at state prison facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.

However, the state is not conducting widespread testing of its inmates. According to a NMDOC spokesperson, 11 inmates have been tested for the virus and they were all negative as of Monday afternoon.

ACLU attorney Lalita Moskowitz called the court's ruling a "devastating decision for incarcerated people, their families, and our communities at large."

"While we are deeply disappointed by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision, we can still act to prevent a humanitarian crisis from unfolding in our state. The governor and the New Mexico Corrections Department have the power to conduct widespread testing in New Mexico prisons and to release people who pose no threat to public safety from prisons. They should exercise that power now, rather than waiting until disaster strikes," said Moskowitz.

Chief Public Defender Bennet Baur issued the following statement:

"We are grateful that the Governor's Office has acknowledged the need for more testing of inmates and has said it will ramp up testing inside our prisons. Understanding the scope of the problem now is crucial to going forward. If this action with the court helps make that happen, then it advances public health inside and outside the facilities."


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