State to take over two privately run prisons

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Oct. 13—SANTA FE — New Mexico is on track to take over control of two privately run prisons in Grants and Santa Rosa next month, the state's top corrections official told members of a legislative panel Tuesday.

Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said the state has completed a lease with Tennessee-based CoreCivic to run the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Grants and is working with the Florida-based GEO Group to finish details on a lease for the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa.

The state will officially take over day-to-day management of both prisons Nov. 1, Tafoya Lucero said.

She also said the state Corrections Department has been organizing hiring and training events for the two facilities, which have struggled with low staffing in recent years.

"We are working hard to recruit people in all security positions," Tafoya Lucero said during a Tuesday meeting of the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee at the state Capitol.

The lease with CoreCivic for the Grants prison has an initial term of three years but could be extended annually for up to 20 years — or until Oct. 31, 2041, state Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said.

The state will pay the private prison company $1.2 million in rent for the coming year, with the rent level rising to $4.2 million in each of the two subsequent years, he said.

Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in 2019, New Mexico has started shifting away from a reliance on private prisons that was implemented in the 1990s due to inmate crowding and chronic mismanagement of state-run prisons.

In addition to the planned takeover of the prisons in Grants and Santa Rosa, the Lujan Grisham administration took over management of the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton in 2019.

Once the current transition is complete, roughly 25% of state prison beds will be in privately run facilities, down from 49.6% less than three years ago, according to Corrections Department data.

However, Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, expressed concern Tuesday about the possibility some employees at the Grants prison will lose their jobs due to the change in management.

In addition, the return to more state-level management is expected to come with a higher price tag, due largely to higher pay levels for corrections officers.

While some legislators have pushed for a moratorium on private prisons in New Mexico, other lawmakers say doing away with private prisons might not be feasible, given the large numbers of inmates — and federal immigration detainees — being held in the state.

"Completely closing these prisons seems impossible, given the numbers," said Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde.

The Corrections Department is expected to present its budget request for the coming fiscal year to a different legislative committee next month.

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