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.
A lively debate in the House Judiciary Committee around a proposal for New Mexico to stop renewing contracts with private detention centers ended with one Democrat voting against the bill, along with all Republicans, but it passed 7 to 5. HB 40, the Private Detention Moratorium Act, would phase out the state’s reliance on private companies to house its prison population within 3 to 5 years. New Mexico incarcerates more people per capita than any other state and, disproportionately, the people housed are Black and Latino, advocates for the bill have said. But House Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, a Democrat from Milan and a former magistrate judge, voted against the bill. He said he used to work in the state prison system and he questioned whether people housed in public detention centers are really better off.
A private detention center in southern New Mexico sought to increase the numbers of detainees within its facility after the state declared a public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Management and Training Company (MTC), which operates the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC), sent a letter to Otero County Manager Pam Heltner dated March 31. The letter stated that due to an anticipated “significant decrease,” in migrant detainees, the company would terminate its agreement—but offered a solution. NM Political Report received the letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request. The letter stated:
“MTC would be happy to explore with you the possibility of partnering with other state or federal agencies to co-locate detainees or inmates at the OCPC in order to increase the overall population at the facility and make MTC’s continued operation of the facility financially viable.”
MTC houses migrants held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
New Mexico legislators start their 60-day session Tuesday with plenty of unfinished business, including closing a projected budget deficit of about $67 million. But any hope that the passing of a rancorous election year and the ongoing budget crisis would inspire bipartisan compromise already seems to have evaporated. Instead, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and top lawmakers have staked out positions that almost guarantee a clash over taxes and spending. In addition, more budget cuts are likely, no matter the outcome. Martinez proposed easing the projected deficit by requiring public employees to pay for a bigger share toward their pensions.