Private prison operator CoreCivic is accused of ignoring a COVID-19 outbreak, putting inmates and the community at risk

In the first week of July, Freddie Sanchez began to feel a hot and cold tingling sensation in his neck and back. He had been imprisoned at Cibola County Correctional Center for two years and lived in a working pod, a unit of about 40 federal inmates who work in food preparation and other jobs at the prison while awaiting trial or sentencing. 

Feeling “sicker than heck,” Sanchez asked a guard about getting a COVID-19 test. He said the guard told him he was probably just withdrawing from drugs. “That’s messed up for someone to even say that,” Sanchez said. 

The next week, he noticed that one of the other kitchen workers was having trouble breathing. The inmate, who had asthma, confided that he was afraid to let himself fall asleep at night for fear he might not wake up.

Questions on COVID-19 among migrant detainees

When the state Department of Health reported a two-day spike in COVID-19 at Cibola County Correctional Center late last month, activists and lawyers who work with detained migrants didn’t know how many had tested positive. The Milan facility, run by a private company called CoreCivic, also houses federal prisoners under U.S. Marshals Service, as well as county prisoners. “We have one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world,” said Rebekah Entralgo, media advocacy specialist for the California organization Freedom for Immigrants which works with detainees. And she said by phone that the private companies that run detention centers “thrive off secrecy.”

Allegra Love, executive director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which provides free legal services to immigrants, said her impression is that the migrant population at the Cibola facility is “low.”

“That information is almost impossible to get and CoreCivic isn’t compelled to tell us daily count numbers,” Love said. New Mexico’s congressional delegation sent a letter to CoreCivic last week because of the recent spike in COVID-19 at the multi-use detention center.

Inmates in Cibola County protest over COVID-19 conditions

A small group of federal detainees held a protest on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the private company which runs the facility confirmed. Amanda Gilchrist, the director of public affairs for CoreCivic, the company that oversees the western Cibola County Correctional Center, said in a statement that the group of detainees were protesting their “quarantine status” and said the protest ended without injuries. “During the incident, these detainees blocked the pod door, covered the windows and cameras, and refused to comply with verbal directives provided by facility staff,” Gilchrist said in an email. 

She added that medical staff “reviewed the individuals involved in the protest” and that guards “Successfully restored order, with no injuries occurring as a result of this incident to detainees or staff.”

In May, guards at the Torrance County Detention Facility used pepper spray to subdue detainees, Searchlight New Mexico reported. The Cibola County Correctional Center houses federal detainees, which include those detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Last week, the facility saw a significant increase of COVID-19 cases.

State hits new high of COVID-19 cases, led by Cibola County Correctional Center

New Mexico health officials announced 467 new cases of COVID-19, by far the most in a single day—with 170 coming from the Cibola County Correctional Center. 

The report also showed continued growth in southern and eastern New Mexico. The previous record for New Mexico was 338 confirmed cases set just last week, on July 23. Now, New Mexico had its first day of more than 400 cases. The state also announced five additional deaths. In total, the state now has 19,502 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 619 deaths related to the disease.

121 additional cases and 10 additional related deaths due to COVID-19

The New Mexico Department of Health announced 121 additional COVID-19 cases and ten additional related deaths Thursday. The places with double digit numbers of new cases are three counties: Bernalillo, with 31 new cases; Doña Ana, with 18 new cases and McKinley with 14 new cases plus Otero County Prison Facility, with 17 new cases of state-held inmates who tested positive for the respiratory illness. The ten additional deaths related to COVID-19 brings that total to 420 across the state. The DOH did not give details on underlying conditions but gave basic information on each case:

A male in his 60s from Doña Ana County who was hospitalized.A male in his 80s from Doña Ana County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Jim Wood Home in Hatch.A male in his 80s from McKinley County who had underlying conditions and was a patient at the Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque.A second male in his 80s from McKinley County.A female in her 80s from San Juan County who was a resident of the Life Care Center of Farmington in Farmington.A female in her 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of Beehive Homes in Farmington.A second female in her 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of Beehive Homes in Farmington.A male in his 50s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from San Juan County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 90s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions and was a resident of the Cedar Ridge Inn facility in Farmington. The state said through its daily announcement that some numbers previously reported that were incorrect have been corrected.

Single biggest daily jump in COVID-19 confirmed cases Friday with 331 positive tests

The state announced the biggest single jump in daily cases of COVID-19 on Friday with 331 additional positive tests with a large part of the increase in  cases coming from the Otero County Prison Facility and the northwest corner of the state. This brings the total number of cases to 8,672. This is the second day in a row when a large portion of the number of additional cases came from the Otero County Prison Facility, with 116 cases from federal inmates and 13 cases from inmates held by the state. McKinley and San Juan counties have the next highest number of additional cases, with 77 new cases in McKinley and 52 new cases in San Juan County. The state Department of Health also announced four additional deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the number of deaths to 387.

108 new cases and six new deaths related to COVID-19

The state Department of Health announced 108 additional test positive cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths related to the type of coronavirus. The new test positive cases brings the total number of cases of COVID-19 in the state to 7,364 and the total number of deaths related to the disease to 335. DOH released basic information about the deceased:

A male in his 80s from Bernalillo County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 70s from McKinley County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. She was a resident of Red Rocks Care Center in Gallup.A male in his 20s from McKinley County was hospitalized.A male in his 50s from McKinley County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 70s from Rio Arriba County was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 60s from San Juan County had underlying conditions. The state has processed 183,544 tests as of Thursday, an increase of 4,001 tests since Wednesday.

97 new test positive cases of COVID-19; total nears 6,000

The state Department of Health announced New Mexico has 97 additional test positive cases of COVID-19 and six additional related deaths. Of the 97 new cases, 61 were in one of three counties: McKinley, Sandoval and San Juan. Those three counties are home to some of New Mexico’s tribal lands, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.The state said the results were partial because of a technical problem with private labs and that full results would be available on Monday. Sunday’s announcement brought the total number of positive tests in New Mexico 5,938 test positive cases and 265 COVID-19-related deaths.The state has processed 133,253 tests, according to the New Mexico DOH website. That is an increase of 4,679 since Saturday.

164 new cases, including seven new cases at federal facilities

The state announced 164 new cases of COVID-19, including seven new individuals held in federal agencies at the Otero County Prison Facility. The new cases, announced through the state Department of Health, bring the total to 5,662 cases of the type of coronavirus that causes respiratory illness. The state also announced 11 new deaths related to the virus, which brings the total of deaths to 253. 

There are 223 individuals hospitalized for the virus in the state, an increase of 14. In a press conference on Friday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said 52 of these patients are on ventilators. This number may include individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico.

Groups rally outside Cibola County jail

Without intervention, as much as 100 percent of immigrants in detention centers could test positive for COVID-19 within the next 90 days and overwhelm state healthcare systems, according to a recent study. The study, produced by the Washington D.C., nonprofit advocacy group the Government Accountability Project, states that, optimistically, 72 percent could become infected with COVID-19 in immigrant detention facilities. The projected 100 percent reflects the pessimistic estimation, the study says. Those projections mean that state health care systems would be overwhelmed, the study reports. A group of advocacy organizations organized a rally, called “Free Them All Friday,” which consisted of about 30 cars that drove around the Cibola County Correctional Center, which holds immigrant detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Friday afternoon to try to bring attention to this problem.