New Mexico’s Relationship with Private Prison Contractors

New Mexico leads the nation in terms of the proportion of its prison inmates who are housed by private prison contracting companies—a jaw-dropping 42 percent! The national average for state prisoners is 8%. There are eleven prisons which house state inmates in New Mexico, five of those are administered by private prison contracting companies. The total capacity for these five facilities would be 4,589 inmates. However, the five facilities housing the state inmates are by no means the only sources of revenue for the private correctional industry providers operating in New Mexico, not by any means. In addition to housing the offenders in facilities, private companies—often the same companies running the facilities or their affiliates—contract for provision of everything from medical care to food and from laundry to telephone services.

The myriad of contracts is very complex and makes it very difficult to achieve a full understanding of the magnitude of their operations. There are companies within companies, an intricate web of affiliates and associations spanning multiple states and, on occasion, other nations. It is also a common practice to change the names of corporations or affiliates on a regular basis. Such measures are not to foster trust and openness, their aim stands in direct opposition to transparency. They aim to hide what they are doing and what they are doing is often despicable.

Despite the occasional grand-standing, citing commitment to and interest in public safety and the well-being of communities, these multi-billion dollar corporations have one over-arching concern and one only, profit margins. The private correctional providers are profiteers and the commodities at hand are human beings.

Another Category of Private Correctional Institution: ICE Detention Facilities

During the last year of the previous administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that they would be phasing out the use of private prisons. The reasons for that decision were that multiple studies and reports confirmed that the services provided at privately-run institutions were worse—often far worse—than those that were publicly run. There were higher rates of suicide and violent incidents, medical negligence and malpractice; higher recidivism rates and lower quality of services virtually across the board. Human and civil rights violations were both exorbitantly costly and highly repugnant.

In the Northwestern quadrant of the State of New Mexico a privately-run prison which had come under heavy fire and had its contract pulled in July, 2016. However, the corporation’s worries over lost revenues were of short duration. The corporation was able to re-task its Federal prison by converting it into an ICE detention center. The contract’s value exceeded $150M dollars for a five year period. In Cibola County the average family lives on 38,000 dollars per year and as a measure of the munificence of the private prison contractor who snared the contract the citizenry of the county will be allowed to keep a pittance of the total. Whereas the prison contractor nets 2.5 million dollars per month, no matter how many detainees are held in the facility, the citizens of Cibola County get 50 cents for each inmate per day. The facility’s capacity is 847 detainees. Thus, if full, the county’s residents would get just over 400 dollars per day or $12,000 a month. The generosity of corporate America on full display.

Corporate Records Refer to Prisoners as “Assets”

In corporate records detainees are referred to as “assets”, commodities to be traded for money. It’s all about the money and it always was. Under the current administration there has been an ushering in of inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants predominantly originating out of Central America and the Federal Republic of Mexico. A segment of the American public, often very uninformed about immigrants in general, has cheered on mass detainment and deportation. Regardless,  the big private corrections providers are going to make a killing, literally.

In November, 2017 the National Immigrant Justice Center released a report entitled, “What Kind Of Miracle …” – The Systematic Violation Of Immigrants’ Right To Counsel At The Cibola County Correctional Center. The report documents wide systemic flaws such as the lack of immigration attorneys able to handle petitions for asylum status noting that one of the most fundamental rights is the right to legal representation. That the facility is located in a remote location makes it very difficult for detainees to secure representation.

As the same corporation that held the contract for housing Federal offenders who were U.S. citizens lost its contract in 2016 in good part due to egregious instances of medical neglect and malpractice one can only venture an educated guess as to what sort of quality medical care undocumented immigrant detainees will receive. Nevertheless, undocumented immigrant detainees do have defined standards governing the medical care and attention that they should receive while in government custody.

If you know someone who is being detained at the Cibola County Immigrant Detention Facility who has not received proper medical attention and care and that negligence or malpractice has led to serious illness or injury then seeking the assistance of a practiced and experienced attorney is highly advisable.