ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the First Judicial District Court, demanding the release of a woman held in Santa Fe County Jail on a non-serious probation violation. Yesenia Evans suffers from systemic sclerosis, a rare autoimmune disease that impacts the function of her digestive system, heart, lungs, and kidneys and makes her especially vulnerable to COVID-19. The ACLU’s petition contends that continuing to confine Ms. Evans constitutes deliberate indifference to the excessive risk of serious harm of COVID-19 and violates her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The petition also contends that continuing to incarcerate Ms. Evans subjects her to atypical and significant hardship that violates her due process rights.
“As we have seen in places like New York City, once COVID-19 gains a foothold in jails and prisons, the spread is quick and devastating,” said Lalita Moskowitz, ACLU of New Mexico staff attorney and Equal Justice Works fellow. “Ms. Evans' immune system is already severely compromised. For her, it’s a very real possibility that a minor offense could turn into a death sentence.”
Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. The only effective means of reducing the risk of serious illness or death from the virus is to prevent infection in the first place through social distancing and improved hygiene, including washing hands frequently with soap and water. In New Mexico jails, where many hygiene supplies are inaccessible, ventilation is poor, and people live in close quarters, these measures are not feasible.
“We need to follow the example of states like New Jersey, New York, and Colorado and reduce overcrowding in jails and prisons to prevent an explosion of COVID-19 in these facilities,” said Moskowitz. “This means refusing to admit people on new charges and releasing those people who do not pose a threat to public safety. We’ll keep working within the courts to fight for the release of the most vulnerable people as swiftly as we can. But we cannot underestimate the urgency of system-wide action if we are to prevent a catastrophic loss of life.”
The petition follows letters sent from the ACLU of New Mexico to Governor Lujan-Grisham, the New Mexico Corrections Department, jails, and prisons, advocating for urgent measures to protect those involved in the criminal legal system.
A copy of the petition is available below.