August 10, 2023

Woman sues over alleged mistreatment while incarcerated

Photo Credit: Mitchell Haindfield Flickr via Compfight cc

A woman formerly incarcerated at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility is suing New Mexico Corrections Department and Wexford Health Sources, a correctional health contractor,  for mistreating her, including unjustly placing her in solitary confinement.

Irene Archer, 67, is suing with the help of New Mexico Jail and Prison Project. Archer alleges that she suffered injury and medical neglect and was treated inhumanely while housed at the facility in 2021.

The suit alleges that after sentencing, Archer was to be housed at the Valencia County Detention Center in 2020. But due to her extensive physical disabilities, VCDC transferred her to WNMCF as a “county hold” because WNMCF, a state prison, has a medical unit.

The suit alleges that Archer, who requires a walker for ambulation, tripped on an exposed pipe and fell when entering WNMCF. She hurt her knee but did not receive medical attention for it, the suit alleges.

WNMCF placed Archer into solitary confinement because she did not provide a urine sample and kept her there for close to a year even though she lacked the strength and coordination in her hands to hold the container, according to the suit.

Because Archer has severe spinal disabilities, she fell numerous times while in solitary confinement, including once when she hit her head on a wall, felt dizzy and began having headaches, the suit alleges. Staff employed by WNMCF and Wexford Health Services and who were in positions of authority ignored her medical needs and ignored the fact that she was in extreme pain, the suit alleges.

Wendelyn Pekich, vice president of marketing for Wexford Health Sources, responded in an email that the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Brittany Roembach, Corrections Department Public Information Officer, said in an email that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation but “generally speaking, all of our inmates are assessed by a medical provider upon arrival at our facilities.”

“Based on that assessment, their individual plan is meant to ensure that their individual needs are met,” she said.

Archer also suffers from incontinence and, at times, was forced to wear urine soaked clothing and keep urine soaked clothes in her cell until laundry day, according to the suit.

WNMCF also served her only bologna sandwiches, according to the suit. At times, her bologna sandwiches had bugs in it and the meat was green, according to the suit.

The toilet in her cell was thick with green mold, according to the suit.

Archer repeatedly asked for a bible while she was in solitary confinement but staff did not respond to her request until several months went by, according to the suit.

WNMCF rarely allowed Archer to leave her cell except to shower but when she was allowed to go outside, she was confined to a cage with metal fencing by herself, the suit states.

Archer’s husband died while she was inside WNMCF. She requested to be allowed to attend his funeral but the request was denied, the suit alleges.

Archer then asked for behavioral health services to help her cope with the loss but WNMCF allowed her only one visit with a counselor, according to the suit.

Archer did receive “some measure” of the specialized medical care she required toward the end of her one-year incarceration, after a nurse advocated on Archer’s behalf, according to the suit.

Since her release in November 2021, Archer has suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and has required counseling and pharmaceutical interventions to reduce nightmares, hallucinations and depression, the suit states. She also still suffers pain in her knee, according to the suit.

Archer was convicted of a nonviolent crime and was never before incarcerated, the suit states.

Steven Robert Allen, director of New Mexico Jail & Prison Project, said through a news release that “the irony is that a judge had ordered Irene to be transferred to the prison so she could receive adequate medical attention.”

 “The prison even has a medical unit to provide specialized care to [help] people like Irene. Instead of giving her help, they locked her in a dirty cell to suffer alone for almost a year,” Allen said.