A group of inmates sue state and Corrections Department over medical grievance system

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.

Incarcerated woman challenges New Mexico Corrections Department’s methadone policy

An incarcerated woman in New Mexico filed suit last month against the state Department of Corrections after officials allegedly discontinued her prescription for methadone. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency injunctive relief on Monday in federal court for a plaintiff known as “S.B.” who suffers from opioid use disorder. She relies on doctor-prescribed methadone as part of her active recovery from heroin addiction, according to the complaint. The NMDC bans the use of methadone and other Federal Drug Administration approved medications for addiction treatment (MAT) for most prisoners, according to the complaint. Eric Harrison, public information officer for NMDC, said the department could not comment on active litigation and said that S.B. is not in NMDC custody.

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.

Interpretation of updated medical cannabis law could allow all inmates access

Just days after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed broad changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis into law, there are already questions surrounding whether inmates serving out sentences are allowed to use medical cannabis. Senate Bill 406, which the governor signed last week, included protections against job termination and loss of child custody for merely being a patient in the program. A lot of those protections are already in practice, but not written into law—like whether those on probation or parole can be medical cannabis patients. According to a written Department of Corrections policy, probationers or parolees with a valid medical cannabis card will get a pass of sorts for testing positive for the substance. Now, the law explicitly states that those on probation or parole are allowed to use medical cannabis.

Gov. names choice to lead Corrections Department

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has tapped former Florida prison system leader Julie Jones to run the New Mexico Department of Corrections, an agency plagued by short staffing and aging facilities that are quickly approaching capacity. Lujan Grisham said during a news conference Thursday at the Capitol that Jones was seen as a reformer when she was hired in 2015 to run Florida’s massive corrections system — which has more than 10 times the budget and number of inmates as New Mexico’s. She’s hopeful Jones can play the same role here, the governor said. If confirmed by the state Senate for the Cabinet-level corrections secretary job, Jones will take over a department described by the state auditor in 2017 as “rife with mismanagement and financial control problems” and “one of the “poorer run departments in the state.” Jones will be responsible for overseeing 11 state prisons, which hold more than 7,000 inmates, and the Probation and Parole Division, which monitors more than 17,000 convicted criminals.

State tries to keep $2.5 million Corrections Dept. settlement under wrap

After almost two years of legal battles, the State of New Mexico agreed to settle a lawsuit filed against its Corrections Department. In 2015, six female employees at the state prison in Los Lunas sued the department, saying some of their male supervisors assaulted and sexually harassed them. The six women collectively received $2.5 million according to the settlement agreement signed in January. Their attorney, Laura Schauer Ives, said the women sued the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility to shed light on what they called a culture of demeaning female corrections officers. The 140-page lawsuit alleged a history of aggressively sexual comments and crass words directed at female officers.

NM Auditor: Conflict of interest found in Corrections Dept. audit

A former deputy cabinet secretary at the New Mexico Corrections Department was put in charge of the financial relationship between the department and a television production company for which she had worked only months before, according to a new report from the state Auditor’s Office. It appears that Alex Sanchez waived at least $20,000 in fees owed by Lucky 8 TV, LLC, to the Corrections Department in June 2016 after having left  the company’s employ just three months earlier, the report shows. The state Auditor’s evidence for that claim is an email Sanchez sent employees of the company in which she noted the waived fees for the filming of Lucky 8’s prison reality series, “Behind Bars: Rookie Year.”

The Corrections Department could not provide any evidence or documentation that anyone other than Sanchez determined the amounts to be billed to the production company. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted here with permission. Additionally, Lucky 8 was allowed to begin filming a third season of its show last year even though the company still owed the state $42,000 from the previous two seasons, the audit found.

Three strikes expansion moves on from Senate panel

After an emotional debate, three strikes legislation cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Saturday. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill adds a number of violent crime felonies to the state’s existing “three strikes” law, which mandates life imprisonment for people who are convicted three times of certain felonies. The bill is known as “Lilly’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot and killed last fall during a road rage incident in Albuquerque. Lilly’s parents, Alan and Veronica Garcia, acted as expert witnesses for the bill. Pacheco acknowledged that penalties in his bill bill aren’t “perfectly matched” to the person who killed Lilly Garcia, whose previous crimes would not fall under the current or Pacheco’s expanded three strikes law.