A group of state prisoners alleged a corrupt medical grievance system violates their constitutional rights and has contributed to a bone epidemic in New Mexico prisons in a lawsuit. The 18 prisoners filed a lawsuit last month in state district court against the state, the New Mexico Corrections Department and members of its leadership including Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero alleging that a corrupt medical grievance system ignores inmates’ health problems, including after they begin to deteriorate and that officers retaliate against the inmates for filing medical grievances and talking to attorneys. Nine of the inmates involved in the suit developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that results from an infection, according to the complaint. Tripp Stelnicki, director of communications for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, referred NM Political Report to Eric Harrison, public information officer for New Mexico Corrections Department. Harrison wrote that the department does not comment on active litigation.
New Mexico’s top prison official said the state could eventually end its practice of contracting with private, for-profit firms to operate four of its 11 detention facilities, but the change won’t come anytime soon. The comments Friday by Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero followed an executive order earlier this week by President Joe Biden, who said the U.S. Department of Justice must end its reliance on private operators for federal prisons. Tafoya Lucero said she’s not philosophically opposed to the idea of getting rid of privately run prisons — but she doesn’t favor the state taking such action now.
“Conceptually, the existence of a for profit-entity that is utilized for incarceration is definitely something we are moving away from, that we desire to move away from,” she said in an interview Friday. “The point I really want to make is when it’s possible to do it, we should do it. But we can’t be put in a situation where we have to do it overnight.”
She said she couldn’t give a specific time frame for when it might be reasonable for the state to phase out privately run facilities.
“A lot of it comes down to what the budget is and being able to forecast what our resources in the state look like in the years to come,” she said.
Tafoya Lucero, who worked in the state prison system for 18 years before being appointed Cabinet secretary in 2019, told lawmakers on the New Mexico House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Thursday she opposes a bill that would outlaw privately operated state prisons.
House Bill 40 would allow existing contracts to expire but prohibit renewals, which she said would result in a loss of 3,000 inmate beds.