The New Mexico Civil Rights Act is headed to the Governor but passage is just one small step to New Mexico prison reform.
We should start with the good news.
The good news is that the New Mexico Civil Rights Act (House Bill 4) passed the State Senate with a few amendments, the House approved the amendments and now the bill is headed to the Governor. Assuming the Governor doesn’t veto it, which would be gross political malpractice for a Democratic Governor with higher aspirations, the Bill will become law.
The bad news is that the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) seems incapable of change. NMCD behavior will not change no matter how many times NMCD gets sued, no matter how many or how much the settlements and judgements against it, and most importantly perhaps for the reader, no matter what the costs to New Mexico taxpayers as a result of NMCD’s incompetence, deliberate cruelty and utter disregard for the lives and safety of medically vulnerable inmates.
During our many lawsuits against NMCD and its medical providers, NMCD seems more interested in defending the bad conduct of its medical contractors than defending NMCD, the State of New Mexico and its taxpayers. NMCD will not change its ways without much more than the mere enactment of a new law. NMCD does not seem to be concerned with law, morality and most certainly not the health, safety and lives of its inmates.
Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations Escape Responsibility
Again, returning to the good news. Perhaps the best possible reason for passage of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act is the fact that the state courts have consistently ruled that New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) corporate private medical providers, which are massive billion dollar corporations, are protected by New Mexico Tort Claims Act (TCA).
One of the medical providers that enjoys the protections of the TCA is part of a corporate conglomerate with $100 billion+ in revenues for the year 2020 alone. The Tort Claims Act caps on liability are $700,000 for personal injury claims and $400,000 for wrongful death. It is odd and appalling that a death is worse less than personal injuries. However, this is how the Tort Claims Act is written and it is topic for another discussion.
The point of this discussion is that multi-billion-dollar conglomerates escape accountability for some rather atrocious medical malpractice. These companies sneeze up $400,000 and $700,000 for that matter. Do the math on $400,000/$100 billion. The percentages are astronomically small. Does anyone really think that $400,000, $700,000 or even the new caps of $2 million will change their behavior? It will not. They will continue to do cost benefit analysis on whether or not to provide necessary healthcare to NMCD inmates and if it makes economic sense, they will deny that care.
New Mexico Civil Rights Act is Only a First Step
The New Mexico Civil Rights Act, assuming it is passed into law, will raise the caps for NMCD medical providers to $2 million. This is still a slap on the wrist for a $100+ billion dollar corporation but it is a start.
Much more needs to be done to improve medical care in prisons. The fact is that NMCD has been complicit in the appalling medical care provided to inmates since NMCD began utilizing private medical contractors. It is a revolving door of bad actors. One medical contractor is replaced by a worse medical contractor who is in turn replaced by one that is even worse and so on, rinse and repeat.
At some point, it is about much more than caps on liability. What is happening in NMCD facilities is, in my estimation, medical torture. Aside from the human costs, the immorality, the cruelty and callousness inherent in the medical services provided to NMCD inmates, the costs to taxpayers has never been truly calculated. Suffice it to say that true costs to New Mexico taxpayers are exponentially higher than any payouts by NMCD. And yet, the problem persists year in and year out.
NMCD Administrators Must be Held Accountable
NMCD simply does not get the message. NMCD will not get the message no matter how many $2 million dollar verdicts are handed down against it or its medical providers. After all, the medical providers must indemnify NMCD for those verdicts. Nothing has changed over the years and nothing will no matter how many lawsuits, how many settlements and how many verdicts are issued against NMCD as a result of the gross medical negligence and cruelty of their medical contractors without change at the top of NMCD.
The only way to change this is to change the administration. This means removal of the Secretary of Corrections and pretty much every high level administrative employee of NMCD. They have all been there for far too long. They have been given one opportunity after another to improve the medical care at NMCD facilities. They have made the deliberate choice not to do so.
Taxpayers Suffer the Costs
We do strive to bring light to the issues which is why we have written so many articles on the matter. We also strive to make sure the press and legislators are aware of the issues. We issued numerous email letters to legislators outlining the issues above along with other issues concerning the medical care during the legislative process to pass HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Right Act.
Please do something if not because it is the right thing to do then because is the economically sound thing to do. We are trying our best to do our part. Please do the same and contact your legislators and the Governor to let them know that this must change now.
In the meantime, for our part, we will continue to file lawsuits against NMCD and its medical contractors. This is the best we can do to protect the lives and health of New Mexico inmates. It is up to taxpayers to protect their own economic interests.