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.

Navajo Nation president expresses concern over county jail conditions

While New Mexico grapples with a delayed roll-out of reopening businesses and cancelled public events, some detention centers are grappling with increasing numbers of COVID-19. 

A privately run prison in Otero County, which houses both state and federal detainees, has seen a dramatic increase in cases of the disease. 

But now a county jail in northern New Mexico with hundreds of reported cases since March has caught the attention of at least one tribal leader. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to San Juan County leaders last week calling for an investigation into how the county jail is run and what is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A portion of the Navajo Nation is in San Juan County and, like the county jail, has seen a high number of positive cases. In his letter, Nez cited a phone call from someone whose relative is in the San Juan County Adult Detention Center (SJCADC). The caller, Nez wrote, said the jail is lacking adequate ventilation, no separation of infected inmates, no laundry service and little to no sanitation efforts by jail officials. 

“How is SJCADC providing for the respect and dignity of the Detainees with a safe and secure environment that is maintained for operational readiness?” Nez asked in the letter. 

He went on to say that he would like to see county officials look into the conditions at the jail. 

“An investigation into the SJCADC operations and more specifically during these times of unprecedented crisis is requested, along with remedies for accountability and responsibility to do the right thing,” he wrote. 

The Navajo Nation did not respond to interview requests. In response, Chairman of the San Juan County Commission Jack Fortner wrote a letter disputing the allegation that inmates are subjected to sub-par conditions. 

Fortner wrote that the jail accepted an offer from the New Mexico Department of Health to provide guidance from Infectious Disease Bureau Medical Director Dr. Aja Sanzone.

House bill to deny bail advances

A bill that would allow judges to deny bail on certain offenders has passed its first House committee on party lines. Sponsored by state Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, the measure would allow voters to approve or reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would let judges deny bail to offenders to “protect the safety of any other person or the community.”

The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee passed the bill on a 4-3 vote. Jeff Clayton, a policy director for the American Bail Coalition, said the bill would only affect the “worst of the worst.”

“We’re talking about somebody who is dangerous who is going to flee and be dangerous,” Clayton said. Among supporters of the bill were members of the bail bond industry, the state Department of Public Safety and Julie Benner, widow of Rio Rancho officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner. Most who opposed the bill mentioned their support of a similar measure by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.