ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Today, the ACLU of New Mexico released a report conducted in concert with University of New Mexico New Mexico researchers, revealing the state’s rate of solitary confinement is more than double what the New Mexico Corrections Department reports. After requesting data under New Mexico’s public records law about how the department calculates solitary confinement, the researchers determined that NMDC failed to include into its calculations several units and security levels where inmates are confined for more than 22 hours a day, leading to a misestimation of the total population in isolation. At a rate of nine percent, New Mexico ranks among the top five states with the greatest percent of inmates in solitary confinement.
“When it comes to solitary confinement — a practice that causes acute and often irreversible mental suffering — we simply cannot tolerate imprecise and unreliable data,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard. “The human costs are far too great, not only for the individuals concerned, but for their families, and for our communities to which most of these individuals will someday return.”
Of the 84 respondents who spent time in solitary confinment throughout New Mexico, an overwhelming majority reported experiencing adverse mental and physical health outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, severe headaches, abdominal pain, and violent and aggressive thoughts. The findings are consistent with a multitude of research studies conducted across the country on the mental and physical effects of prolonged isolation.
“Each day that I spent in solitary confinement was mental anguish,” said Kelly Garcia, a member of the ACLU of New Mexico’s Justice Advisory Board. “Before I got to prison, I didn’t have mental health issues. Now, I have PTSD, I have anxiety, and I am emotionally detached.”
The full report, which includes first hand accounts from inmates who spent time in solitary confinement as well as researcher policy recommendations, is available here.