ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Today, international law firm Faegre Drinker and Albuquerque-based Law Office of Ryan J. Villa joined with the ACLU of New Mexico, the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (NMCDLA), and several incarcerated individuals to file a class-action lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for failing to protect the lives and constitutional rights of people housed in the state’s prison system. The lawsuit seeks to reduce the number of people incarcerated in New Mexico prisons and to ensure the State immediately implements safe social distancing, heightened hygiene practices, and proper medical treatment to protect incarcerated people from the ongoing threat of Covid-19.
“Individuals in our prison system are too often unseen and underrepresented,” said Faegre Drinker attorney Chris Casolaro. “The tragic suffering and loss of life due to Covid-19 in New Mexico prisons was, and is, preventable if the State enforces its own mandate for social distancing, heightened hygiene practices, and safe quarantine and treatment.”
In April, the Law Offices of the Public Defender, the ACLU, and NMCDLA brought a similar lawsuit before the New Mexico Supreme Court, arguing that the State had deliberately and intentionally put people at risk by not substantially reducing the prison population. The Court, however, denied the petition, alleging the groups could not prove the State’s actions were deliberate and intentional. Since April, there has been an explosion of Covid-19 in correctional facilities, especially in Otero County Prison Facility where nearly 90% of incarcerated individuals are now infected.
“Incarceration should not be a death sentence,” said Paul Haidle, executive director at the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “Yet, the State’s failure to stop the spread of Covid-19 in prisons has already resulted in tragic loss of life and immense human suffering. People behind prison walls are living in fear and cannot afford to wait another day for conditions to improve.”
Attorneys in the case are representing plaintiffs pro bono and are not seeking any monetary damages through the lawsuit.
“We’re counting on the Court to take swift and decisive action,” said Lalita Moskowitz, ACLU staff attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow. “How many more people must suffer or lose their lives before the State finally addresses the humanitarian crisis unfolding in our prisons? Every day that goes by without adequate action is a day that threatens the lives and dignity of thousands of people incarcerated in New Mexico prisons."
Representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are John Mandler and Christopher Casolaro of Faegre Drinker and Ryan Villa of the Law Offices of Ryan J Villa.
ACLU of New Mexico
New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association