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Recent Rash of Suicides in New Mexico Prisons and Jails Points to Systemic Neglect

There have been a number of suicides recently in New Mexico prisons and jails. Collins & Collins, P.C. is aware of these because we have gotten calls from 2 of the 3 families affected by the inmate suicides. It appears based upon local news coverage from KOB that there were 2 such recent suicides  in a matter hours at the same New Mexico Corrections Department prison facility.   The 3rd suicide occurred in a county jail and the inmate died at a hospital.  In sum, there appears to have been 3 inmate suicides in a week in New Mexico jails.  The suicides all occurred within a 48-hour time period.  This is clearly a problem.  

Inmate Suicide Should Not Occur

The plain fact is that suicides in jails and prisons simply should not occur. There are many clear warning signs for potential suicide.  Jails and prisons have a duty to keep an eye out for these warning signs and to take appropriate action in order to prevent an inmate suicide. In fact, there are federal and state guidelines on suicide prevention in jails and prisons. In addition, both the American Corrections Association (ACA) and National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) establish prison industry standards for suicide prevention.

Prison Industry Standards for Inmate Suicide Prevention
The NCCHC and ACA both set forth minimal standards for suicide prevention. These suicides are preventable. Yet New Mexico jails and prisons deliberately choose not to follow these simple requirements.  The basic standards include adequate staffing levels and adequately trained staff.  These are both generally lacking throughout New Mexico prisons and jails. 

1.  Staffing Level Requirements

New Mexico prisons and jails are chronically understaffed. This is true in New Mexico Corrections Department run facilities,  privately-run facilities and county facilities. The problem is very well documented, yet prison and jail administrators throughout the state have chosen not to enforce staffing level requirements. The failure to adequately staff correctional facilities undoubtedly adds to the already significant risks of inmate suicide.

2.  Staff Trained in Suicide Prevention

It is essential that staff be trained in suicide prevention. This means that staff must be trained to identify inmates at risk of suicide. It means further that there should be guidelines on how to identify suicidal inmates and the appropriate preventive measures that must be immediately implemented to protect those inmates. Correctional facilities in New Mexico clearly do not value this training or the standards that should for the basis for the training.  The failure of training and the consequent violation of the standards and guidelines governing suicide prevention shows a callous and reckless disregard for the health and safety of inmates. 

Preventive Measures Must Be Implemented

Following the last point, it is absolutely essential that immediate preventive measures should be activated once an inmate at risk of suicide is identified. This of course is problematic based upon the numbers 1 and 2 above. Staffing levels are insufficient for appropriate staff inmate one on one interaction. Staff are not properly trained to identify at risk inmates. Even when identified, the industry guidelines on preventive measures are not implemented. This brings us back to fact that a casual observer and perhaps even a legally trained observer might conclude the New Mexico corrections simply lacks concern for the health and safety of its inmates.

NMCD Facilities Not Accredited by ACA or NCCHC

To reiterate, NMCD facilities are not currently accredited by the ACA or NCCHC.  Collins & Collins, P.C. has for at least 2 years been attempting to obtain information on NMCD accreditation under the American Corrections Association and National Commission on Correctional Health Care. What we have found is in our estimation is pretty shocking. However, there is much more to learn and perhaps even greater shock to come.

What we do know now is that NMCD has simply chosen not to seek accreditation under NCCHC at all. This is remarkable in the fact that NCCHC sets minimal constitutional requirements for correctional healthcare. Likewise, it has been established that Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (CNMCF) has not been ACA accredited since at least 2015.

Why is this so shocking? Because 2 suicides in a matter of hours occurred at CNMCF last week as reported by KOB.

As mentioned, there is much more that Collins & Collins, P.C. needs to learn. Also, as mentioned, NMCD has chosen not to seek nor follow NCCHC accreditation or its guidelines. We also know CNMCF is not currently ACA accredited. What we do not know is on the overall status of ACA accreditation for NMCD facilities other than CNMCF. The tasks of making that determination has been monumental with Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) requests ongoing and at least one IPRA lawsuit in progress.

Current Litigation Regarding Medical Care in NMCD Facilities

Collins & Collins, P.C. is currently in litigation on a number of cases involving what we believe to be egregious medical malpractice in NMCD facilities. There are several more that we are currently evaluating. The thread running through these cases is the absolute disdain for the health and safety of inmates in NMCD facilities. Of course, this carries through to inmate suicides and specifically to the rash of suicides we saw last week.

We will do our best to keep you posted. However, the best way to stay abreast of these developments is to follow the litigation.

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