Private detention facilities are notorious centers of cruelty and violence. For more than a decade, ACLU of New Mexico staff have documented widespread medical neglect, sexual abuse, retaliatory uses of solitary confinement, suicides, and deaths in private New Mexico immigration facilities and private prisons owned and operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), CoreCivic, and The GEO Group.
As a result of widespread abuse and neglect, we’ve filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens of people detained in private facilities. We’ve testified about the horrendous conditions in committee hearings at our state Capitol. And we’ve written letters to government agencies expressing grave concerns.
We aren’t the only ones to ring alarm bells. Advocacy organizations and legal groups across New Mexico have called for an end to private prisons and immigration facilities. And the media have reported widely on rights violations at these facilities. Yet little has changed.
In 2016, The Nation exposed such damning evidence of medical neglect at Cibola County Correctional Center that the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with CoreCivic, then CCA, after 16 years. Yet, when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) almost immediately contracted with the same company to operate the facility as an immigration detention center, the State did nothing. Unsurprisingly, the facility remains a hotbed of abuse.
Despite widespread knowledge of human rights violations at privately-run facilities, New Mexico continues a dangerous partnership with for-profit prison corporations. In fact, we are more reliant on private prisons than any other state.
Allowing private corporations to profit off of bondage and suffering in our state has perpetuated a humanitarian crisis and cost taxpayers millions in lawsuits resulting from the rampant neglect and abuse in these facilities. It is both a moral and material failure for our state.
Private companies are not concerned with creating safe and humane conditions for the human beings in their care; they are concerned about their bottom lines. Their business model depends on keeping people in bondage and doing so at the lowest possible costs. The human misery that has resulted was predictable. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to right past wrongs.
HB 40, currently making its way through the New Mexico Legislature, would end all private detention in our state. Passing it is a human rights imperative. Our state can’t afford for lawmakers and state officials to drag their feet and make excuses for not taking responsibility for New Mexicans detained in our communities. The bill allows current contracts with private facilities to expire, providing the state ample time to transition away from private companies.
Even the federal government is moving away from for-profit prisons. In late January, President Biden issued an executive order directing the attorney general not to renew Department of Justice contracts with private prison companies. Immigrant rights advocates have been calling on the Biden administration to take immediate action to also phase out the federal government’s contracts with private immigration detention facilities.
Ending private detention will not fix all of our problems, but it is a necessary start towards ensuring better oversight, greater transparency, and more humane conditions in detention facilities throughout New Mexico. Moving away from a profit-driven model is also a crucial step towards ending mass incarceration, a system which has fueled racial injustice, torn families apart, and failed to make our communities safer. Our state must do better, and HB 40 provides us an opportunity to take our first steps away from the prison-industrial complex and towards a more just and humane future for New Mexico.