Inhumane conditions and alleged sexual assault at NM women’s prisons

Many incarcerated women, often already traumatized from gender violence, potentially face re-traumatization once imprisoned in New Mexico through inhumane conditions and sexual assault, according to attorneys. Lalita Moskowitz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the inhumane conditions run the gamut in New Mexico prisons—from infestations of rodents and freezing conditions at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility outside of Grants to infrastructure that is “completely falling apart” and inadequate reproductive health care at Springer Correctional Center in the small northern town of Springer. She said the two New Mexico women’s correctional facilities are “some of the oldest (correctional) buildings in the state.”

There have also been numerous sexual assault allegations at both facilities, Moskowitz said, and several sexual assault lawsuits. Steve Allen, director of the nonprofit New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, called the sexual abuse at Springer, “systemic.”

Many of the women housed in New Mexico’s correctional facilities are nonviolent offenders. Allen said that many women who are housed in WNMCF, which is a medium-level security facility, are “overclassified,” which means the inmates are put into a higher security prison than they need to be.

U.S. Health and Human Services stays restrictions on mifepristone

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to put a lawsuit on hold late last week that could have longer term implications for the abortion medication mifepristone. On Friday the HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, filed in Hawaii district court a request to stay a lawsuit that has been ongoing around mifepristone since 2017.  The ACLU, which also filed for the stay, is suing the U.S. Health and Human Services on behalf of a Hawaii clinician. The ACLU and the Hawaii clinician are suing because the FDA’s in-person pickup requirement for mifepristone requires patients in Hawaii to have to fly between islands to receive a single pill. Once a patient has picked up mifepristone at a clinic, they can go home to take it. The FDA requires abortion patients to travel to a clinic to pick up mifepristone because the abortion medication is under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), drug safety program intended for medications with serious safety concerns. 

Mifepristone has been in the FDA’s REMS program since the FDA approved the prescription drug in 2000.

Children sentenced as adults are disproportionately children of color

When Carissa McGee was 16 years old, she was sentenced to 21 years in an adult correctional facility for stabbing two members of her family. McGee told NM Political Report she was mentally ill at the time, but the judge still sentenced her to more than two decades in prison. “I experienced my ultimate low. I was sentenced at 16 years old. I didn’t know what 21 years would feel like,” McGee said.

Transgender woman to seek legislative seat

On Thursday, one of the first openly transgender people to seek a New Mexico legislative seat, Bunnie Benton Cruse, announced her intent to replace Rep. Melanie Stansbury for the state House. Stansbury is the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election for the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland vacated when she left the U.S. House of Representatives to take the federal position. Benton Cruse will apply to the Bernalillo County Commission, which will decide who to appoint to HD 28 if Stansbury wins June 1 and leaves the seat. Benton Cruse said she went public with her intention to apply for the HD 28 seat before the June 1 special election because she believes Stansbury will win. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called Benton Cruse’s decision to seek Stansbury’s seat “historic.”

“It really is super historic,” Martinez said.

Citing millions in waste, ACLU calls for closure of 39 ICE facilities, including Otero County Processing Center

Citing $1 million a day of wasted federal dollars, the American Civil Liberties Union called on President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday to close 39 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities across the U.S., including the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral. The federal government has been paying for the empty bed spaces at these facilities, almost all run by privately-owned companies, which the ACLU called “wasting” taxpayer money. The ACLU established a criteria for the 39 facilities it is calling on the federal government to close. In its statement, issued Wednesday, the ACLU said that Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) was included because of its “extensive record of civil rights violations and inhumane treatment.”

The letter, sent to The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urged the secretary to announce his intention to close ICE detention facilities across the country. “With lower ICE arrest rates and already reduced levels of detention arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE is currently paying to maintain thousands of empty beds at enormous taxpayer expense—wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better spent on alternatives to detention and other programmatic priorities,” the letter states.

FDA reverses decision on abortion medication mifepristone

After a year of legal fighting over mifepristone, the Food and Drug Administration has reversed itself, allowing the abortion medication to be prescribed during the COVID-19 pandemic through telehealth. The FDA, under the Donald Trump administration, would not allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telehealth, citing safety concerns, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of 20-year-old regulations around mifepristone, patients are normally required to travel to a clinic to pick up the pill. But, the pill can be safely taken at home. In the spring of 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the FDA on behalf of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Reversal of Trump gag rule on Title X funding proposed by the Biden administration

This week, the Joe Biden administration proposed to reverse a Donald Trump administration gag rule that affects how some family planning clinics provide abortion care information. Title X is a federal grant program that enables clinics to offer family planning services and preventive reproductive health care, primarily to low-income families who are uninsured or underinsured. New Mexico Department of Health family planning clinics, which receive Title X funding, provide contraception methods and related preventive health services including pre-conception health, sexually transmitted disease prevention education, screening, treatment and breast and cervical cancer screening, NMDOH spokesperson Jim Walton told NM Political Report by email. There are DOH family planning clinics in every county except Catron and Harding counties. Bernalillo County has 16 such clinics, Santa Fe County has seven, Doña Ana County has four and Rio Arriba County has three. 

There are 20 clinic sites that contract with DOH to provide family planning services, including nine school-based health centers.

With fewer people getting tested in clinics, Planned Parenthood expands at-home STI testing

Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico are expanding telehealth medicine to include testing for sexually transmitted infections at home. Adrienne Mansanares, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains chief experience officer, said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, Planned Parenthood clinics are seeing fewer patients getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI). But, cases of STI continue to be on the rise, she said. “We can solve this issue. We can eradicate it by normalizing it and making sure people understand how common it is,” she told NM Political Report.

Guv signs two health-related bills that advance equity, say advocates

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two health-related bills Wednesday that will advance equity, advocates have said. Lujan Grisham signed the Healthy Workplaces Act. 

HB 20, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Albuquerque, mandates that all private sector employers must provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave a year. Starting July 1, 2022, employees will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The fine for noncompliance is $500. The bill sparked controversy when Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, continued a line of questioning to the Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, that some have called bullying during a Senate floor debate.

Guv signs New Mexico Civil Rights Act into law, ends qualified immunity

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense, into law on Wednesday. Advocates have said the law will bring greater equity to New Mexico as it also enables individuals whose state constitutional rights have been violated to bring a civil suit seeking financial remedy. The new law caps the remedy at $2 million and no case can be brought over an incident that occurred before the start date – July 1, 2021 – of the new law. Recoverability of attorney’s fees is possible but subject to the court’s discretion. The original bill, HB 4, came out of recommendations made in a report written by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission in late 2020.