ACLU of New Mexico Demands End to Overcrowding in Women’s Prison
SANTA FE, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico today asked
a state court to force Corrections Secretary Joe Williams to relieve
overcrowding at the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants.
According to the ACLU, inmates are being housed in public communal areas that
are not designed for long-term custody, causing increased tensions and fighting
among inmates as well as the backup of sewage into living areas.
“We gave the Corrections Department every opportunity to fix the situation and it failed to relieve the overcrowding,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “The current conditions seriously threaten the health and safety of the inmates and of the staff. If it takes a court order to force the DOC to resolve the problem, then so be it.”
Specifically, the ACLU of New Mexico is demanding that the Department of Corrections comply with the Corrections Population Control Act, passed by the state legislature in 2002. When the inmate population of a correctional facility “exceeds 100 percent of rated capacity” for a period of 60 consecutive days, the law requires the Corrections Secretary to notify a special legislatively created commission and provide it with a list of nonviolent offenders who are within 180 days of their projected release date. The Commission is required to approve people on this list for emergency release to relieve population pressures within the facility.
“Our records show that the population at the women’s prison has exceeded the 600-person capacity by 60 inmates for more than 60 days,” said ACLU of New Mexico legal co-director Maureen Sanders. “The Secretary has a legal obligation to convene the commission, or he is short-circuiting the wishes of the legislature. The legislature acted responsibly in addressing the overpopulation problem and the safety problems that result by requiring that nonviolent offenders be released. As a society we have a responsibility to ensure that our inmates are housed in safe facilities.”
The ACLU expects that the court will set a hearing within the next 10 days. State Representative Mimi Stewart and the New Mexico Women’s Justice Project have joined the ACLU in the lawsuit.
The ACLU court papers are online at: www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/24937lgl20060404.html