ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sent a letter to Governor Lujan Grisham urging her to implement a series of recommendations to quell the surge of coronavirus cases in New Mexico jails and prisons. The ACLU first sent a letter to the governor in late March, warning that correctional facilities were tinderboxes for infection and recommending a series of concrete measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of incarcerated people and correctional staff.
“Months ago, we warned that if certain steps were not taken, coronavirus would ravage New Mexico jails and prisons, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing now,” said Peter Simonson, executive director at the ACLU of New Mexico. “Incarcerated people — who have no autonomy, no agency to decide their fate — are in fear for their lives and depending on the governor to take bold actions to protect them. We hope this time she heeds our recommendations.”
Across the country, viral outbreaks in prisons have spread quickly, turning correctional facilities into some of the nation’s biggest hotspots for infection. Otero County Prison Facility (OCPF) — the facility with the largest number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico —went from having one positive case on May 15, 2020 to over 400 cases on June 21, 2020. Now, 90% of incarcerated people at the facility have tested positive for the virus.
“Make no mistake: the tragic circumstances at OCPF were neither unlikely nor unique,” said Lalita Moskowitz, staff attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at the ACLU of New Mexico. “Luckily, there are swift and immediate actions the governor can take to prevent further suffering and loss of life.”
In its letter, the ACLU recommends the governor immediately implement plans to:
- Continuously and aggressively test for COVID-19 in all facilities.
- Release people who do not pose a risk to society, including people with non-violent convictions who are 12 months from their parole date, people incarcerated on technical violations of parole, and people eligible for medical and geriatric parole.
- Quickly promulgate a policy to temporarily suspend any incarceration to jail or prison for technical parole violations such as failing a drug test.
- Issue regular reports detailing how many staff have been tested and at which facilities; how many incarcerated people have been tested and at which facilities; the number of tests that have returned positive, negative, and/or inconclusive; the number of staff and incarcerated people on quarantine and from which facilities; the number of hospitalizations and from which facilities; the number of people who have died from the virus and at which facilities they had been held.
A copy of the full letter is available below.