Scope of COVID in New Mexico Prisons Likely Understated

According to the New Mexico Department of Health website, there are currently 495 cases of Covid-19 among state inmates.  In addition, there are 484 inmates in Federal custody who are positive for Covid-19. In one facility alone, the Otero County Prison Facility, there are 277 State inmates and 467 Federal inmates who have tested positive for Covid-19. As for the assertion by the New Mexico Corrections Department that there are 0 cases at 8 of the NMCD facilities we can only observe that this defies belief and reason for NMCD is not known for being forthright.

Reporting from Prisoners and Families

We have been getting calls from inmates and families of inmates for quite some time, reporting fear for their health and safety.  A number of callers have indicated that inmates were being moved to the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility and the Penitentiary of New Mexico and possibly other facilities from the Otero County Prison Facility.  The callers have consistently reported that the inmates, based upon what they are seeing inside the facilities, believe the infections rates to be much higher than is being reported. 

Some skeptics might say that they are inmates and cannot be trusted for information. We at Collins & Collins, P.C. have not found that to be the case. To be honest, when we began working on prisoner cases almost 4 years ago, we had some of the same biases. We thought such egregious reports of abuse and medical neglect were so outrageous that they couldn’t possibly be true. However, we kept digging and the more we dug, the more medical atrocities we found. everything the inmates were telling us turned out to be true and then some. In short, we have found that the inmates that we have worked with on medical negligence cases have been very reliable sources of facts.

I expect that COVID is no different. COVID can be a life and death matter for anyone that contracts it. The threat to inmates is much greater due to the conditions of confinement which include completely incompetent, cruel and inhumane denial of medical care. The inmates are afraid and for good reason.

Information from NMCD Should Not Be Trusted

We have filed numerous medical malpractice cases against NMCD and its contractors. We will be filing many more. To investigate the cases both before and after filing lawsuits, we have conducted expansive searches for evidence through informal searches, Inspection of Public Records Act Requests and formal litigation discovery. Unlike the inmates whom we have found to be very reliable reporters of fact, NMCD and its contractors have been anything but reliable and forthcoming.

They have concealed and/or destroyed evidence. They have faced serious sanctions in court for concealing and/or destroying evidence. There is no reason to expect NMCD’s behavior would be any different with respect to COVID. Independent verification of the true numbers of COVID cases needs to be conducted. Only with accurate information and facts can the State adequately prepare for and protect against the spread of COVID within in the prisons and to the communities in which they are located.

NMCD Communities at Risk

Prison and jails are located in communities. The guards and staff live in those communities. The guards and staff face comparable risks of COVID exposure as the inmates. Likewise, guards in particular are treated by NMCD with comparable levels of contempt and indifference as are the inmates. Guards work insane hours routinely working double shifts which in some cases is the norm. They do so in very stressful and potentially dangerous situations. They are exhausted and they are stressed putting them at high risk from exposure.

Guards and staff face a life-threatening out of control virus that if contracted they will take home to their families, their friends and their communities. Read that again if you are in one of those communities. Yes, that is why it matters that NMCD cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Independent investigation and monitoring is needed.

Public Officials are on Notice

There are many groups trying to address what is no doubt a budding medical disaster in the prisons and the communities in which they are located. Collins & Collins, P.C. put NMCD on notice in mid-March with a Tort Claims Notice for 27 inmates. The letter was also sent to the Governor. Naturally, nothing was done. After all, they are just inmates. The ACLU and New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association along with other groups tried to convince the Governor and the Secretary of Corrections to take responsible and humane action to release some non-violent offenders with little prison time remaining that are at high risk from COVID. Nothing. The ACLU filed a lawsuit to get these at-risk inmates out of prison even if only on a temporary basis while the pandemic was growing out of control. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against them. The end result is that there are many inmates at high risks of exposure to COVID, high risks of very adverse health outcomes if contracted, and high risk of passing the virus on to other inmates, guards and staff. All in all, the response of public officials to COVID in New Mexico prisons has been irresponsible, inhumane and flat out dangerous to New Mexicans, inside and out of its prisons.