Solitary Confinement in New Mexico

A 3 part series on solitary confinement in New Mexico, by KUNM:

Part 1 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Monday, April 28, 2014

In real life, human rights advocates say New Mexico needs to cut back on using solitary confinement as a punishment method—especially for people coping with mental illnesses. Prison officials agree that it should be used less often, though most take issue with the way it’s portrayed in prison dramas.
Read more here.

Part 2 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Monday, May 5, 2014

Jan Green isn’t sure of cell 135C’s exact dimensions at the Valencia County Detention Center. It was small.

“It was a shower stall, but I couldn’t use the shower,” she said. “It had the steel toilet and sink combination. It had a cement L-shaped bench and two drains. It had a steel door with a window that looked out into the walkway. “

She saw those objects every day all day during her months-long stints in solitary.

She slept on a mat on the floor. She remembers that it was cold in there, the lights were kept on around the clock, and she couldn’t get the water running properly. The out-of-use showerhead dripped. All the time.

“I remember being very ill,” she said. “I would pretend or whatever having a friend there for company.” read more by clicking here.

Part 3 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nataura Powdrell remembers one inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center who refused to take his meds. When the jail’s mental health staff tried to talk about it, he explained he didn’t want to become stable. Because then he’d be released from jail.

Then, he knew from experience, he would run through the 30-day supply of medication that the jail provides to exiting inmates. He would have a psychotic break. And he’d go find heroin so he could get comfortable with the voices in his head.

“It’s a catch 22 for him,” Powdrell, spokesperson for MDC, explained. “There needs to be somewhere between jail and the street that these people can get the appropriate help.”

Read more here.

Advertisements

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and ACLU-NM Release Report on Overuse of Solitary Confinement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 2013                 
Contact:  Gail Evans, NM Center on Law and Poverty (505) 255-2840
                  Steven Robert Allen, ACLU-NM (505) 610-4790
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and ACLU-NM Release Report on Overuse of Solitary Confinement
Up to16% of incarcerated New Mexicans are in solitary confinement. It is an overused, underreported practice in our state.
Albuquerque, NM – The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) have released a report,“Inside The Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails,” detailing the findings of a year-long investigation of the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico’s prisons and jails. 

Their study found that solitary confinement is widely used in prisons and jails in New Mexico. While it costs more money to detain prisoners in isolation than in the general population, it does not improve public safety or reduce prison violence. Furthermore, solitary confinement as currently practiced in New Mexico infringes on fundamental rights by isolating prisoners with serious mental illness and allowing for prolonged periods of isolation. The use of this procedure in New Mexico also lacks adequate transparency at both the state and local level.
 “Holding people for months in solitary confinement is contrary to any notion of rehabilitation or re-integration,” said Gail Evans, Legal Director of the NM Center on Law and Poverty. “The evidence is clear that isolation results in cognitive deterioration, which can be irreversible, meaning that our prisons and jails are inflicting brain damage on our citizens.” 

Solitary confinement means detaining a prisoner in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in small cells, where the person is banned from most out-of-cell activities and social interaction. The investigation found that both state prisons and county jails hold hundreds people in solitary at any one time around the state. The average length of stay of solitary in the prisons is almost 3 years. In the jails, it can last for months, or even years at a time.  
New Mexico urgently needs to reform the practice of solitary confinement in its prisons and jails. The NMCLP and the ACLU-NM urge New Mexico to adopt the following reforms:
1. Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement
2. Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days
3. Mandate that all prisoners be provided with mental, physical and social stimulation
4. Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill
5. Ban the use of solitary confinement on children
 “The amount of information we were able to gather is dwarfed by the amount of information we still lack,” said Steven Robert Allen, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. “New Mexico desperately needs to implement uniform transparency requirements to fully reveal how and why solitary confinement is being used in our prisons and jails.”

###

Kristin Seale
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
924 Park Avenue, SW
Suite C
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Man left in solitary confinement for 2 years gets $15.5 million settlement

A man who spent 22 long months in solitary confinement in a New Mexico jail, neglected to the point where he was forced to pull out his own tooth because he said he wasn’t allowed to see a dentist, will receive $15.5 million for the ordeal.

The settlement with Dona Ana County, N.M., falls short of the $22 million that Stephen Slevin, 59, and his attorney had asked for, but is still one of the largest prisoner civil rights payouts in U.S. history.

“His mental health has been severely compromised from the time he was in that facility. That continues to be the same. No amount of money will bring back what they took away from him,” Matt Coyte, Slevin’s Albuquerque-based attorney, said on Wednesday. “But it’s nice to be able to get him some money so he can improve where he is in life and move on.”

Slevin’s story of inhumane treatment in the Dona Ana County Jail, where he was incarcerated from 2005 to 2007 — which he said included his toenails growing so long that they curled around his foot, and fungus festering on his skin because he was deprived of showers — first received publicity last January, when he was awarded the $22 million.

Dona Ana County had been appealing the verdict ever since, refusing to pay Slevin.
But the legal battle ended Tuesday with the $15.5 million settlement, a number decided on in court mediation, according to Jess Williams, Dona Ana County’s public information director.

An initial payment of $6 million is expected to be wired to Slevin by the end of this week; he will receive the rest in installments in the following days.

For Slevin — who has lung cancer and has beaten doctors’ odds for how long he would survive — the case was not about how much money he could make, his attorney said, but about getting recognition of how poorly he was treated and the scars he still has.

“He’s had lots of difficulties over the years. I don’t think he will stop having difficulties,” Coyte said. “The courage he had in the trial was magnificent.”

Slevin’s mistreatment by Dona Ana County started the moment he was arrested back in August of 2005, his attorney told NBC News.

“He was driving through New Mexico and arrested for a DWI, and he allegedly was in a stolen vehicle. Well, it was a car he had borrowed from a friend; a friend had given him a car to drive across the country,” Coyte said in an interview last January.

Slevin was depressed at the time, Coyte explained, and wanted to get out of New Mexico. Instead, he found himself in jail.

“When he gets put in the jail, they think he’s suicidal, and they put him in a padded cell for three days, but never give him any treatment.”

Nor did they give him a trial, Coyte said. Slevin said he never saw a judge during his time in confinement.
After three days in the padded cell, jail guards transferred Slevin into solitary confinement with no explanation.

“Their policy is to then just put them in solitary” if they appear to have mental health issues, Coyte told NBC News.

While in solitary confinement, a prisoner is entitled to one hour per day out of the cell, but often times, Slevin wasn’t even granted that, Coyte said.

Read the rest here.

Press Release: Detained Migrants Call for Support to Prevent Their Deportation into Hands of Cartels

By No More Deaths:
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 08:07
Detained Migrants Call for Support to Prevent Their Deportation to Mexico into Hands of Cartels to Be Kidnapped and Murdered

Human Rights Group Calls on Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to Stop all Deportations to Dangerous Locations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Hannah Hafter (651) 338-8058. Email: media@nomoredeaths.org

Tucson, Arizona—

“PLEASE SAVE US. We, as in my fellow inmates, find ourselves in the Torrance County Detention Facility and we are scared for our lives.”

This was the first line of one of the four letters, received by No More Deaths this week, signed by a total of 21 people sentenced to detention in New Mexico for crossing the U.S./Mexico border through the Arizona desert, undocumented. All the letters express extreme fear of being kidnapped or murdered if they are deported through the border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas (on the other side of the border from New Mexico and Texas).

In these states, organized crime now has more power than the local government and migrants are regularly targeted upon arrival for extortion, violence, and forced conscription under threat of death. Over 34,500 people have been killed over the last four years in drug cartel and gang related violence, with over half the killings in 2010 taking place in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas.

No More Deaths is launching a campaign in response to these calls for support, and demands an end to all deportations through these eastern border states because of the imminent safety risks to deportees. Both ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Border Patrol are currently sending deportees through these ports. At the same time, the border ports of Agua Prieta and Naco, Sonora, Mexico have not been used for repatriation in over 8 months, even though they are known to be significantly safer for deportees. Human Rights Advocates throughout the country began calling and sending faxes to the offices of Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to call for an immediate end to deportations through the Mexican border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.

The letter’s author continues with a story: “[One of the inmates here was last deported through Texas and he was] kidnapped and held hostage along with other deportees and was always at gunpoint. Some didn’t have family or had no money to pay the ransom so this group killed them and the ones that paid escaped death but not a beating… On the other side of the border of Texas is where this takes place every day.”

With the United States deporting upwards of 1,000 people each day to Mexico, a unique and horrifying situation of exploitation has emerged: cartels feed off the constant flow of migrants, using corrupt police and government agencies intended to assist migrants to funnel recent deportees directly into their hands. According to another letter, “When one crosses the border the municipal police is just waiting and watching for deportees.

They pull you over with the excuse that they are going to help you… this is a lie and part of the scam. These police work for the [cartels]. They take you to an abandoned alley or house [where] at gunpoint your eyes are bandaged and your feet and hands are tied. And so begins the nightmare.”
Migrants given prison sentences for crossing the border are also routinely separated from their belongings, including identification, all their money, and lists of phone numbers of family members. The lack of resources, proof of identity, and ability to contact support highly intensifies existing dangers.

According to Hannah Hafter, No More Deaths volunteer from Tucson AZ, age 28, “No border town is completely safe, and all deportations are separating families and ripping apart communities. The U.S. government still has a responsibility to protect people from imminent violence. They are not only endangering lives—they are also financing the drug trade by handing them kidnapping victims. Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security should intervene to ensure the safety of the 21 detainees who wrote us from the Torrance County Detention Facility, put an immediate end to all deportations through the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, and ensure that all deportees receive their belongings including identification and money.”

The inmates writing from Torrance County Detention Facility have release dates between June 15th & June 17th. They request to be sent through the border port in the state of Sonora as an alternative. The last letter, signed by all 21 detainees, reads, “We are not delinquents. We are working people, we have families waiting for us in Mexico, and we fear for our lives. For your attention and understanding, we thank you, and God bless you and us.”

Contact DHS Officials and ask them:

“WHERE WILL YOU BE DEPORTING THE 21 DETAINEES FROM UNIT 8C AT THE TORRANCE COUNTY DETENTION FACILITY?”

DHS Press Room: 202-272-1200
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano: 202-282-8495
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton: 202-732-3000

For those interested in getting involved visit http://www.nomoredeaths.org. To learn more about the urgent action visit http://www.nomoredeaths.org/Updates-and-Announcements/stoptexasdeportations.html.

$2.99M deal brokered in NM strip search lawsuit

July 20, 2010
By Scott Sandlin
The Albuquerque Journal

Proposed settlement covers Santa Rosa jail, 5 others in 3 states 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lawyers in a class action lawsuit involving strip searches of pretrial detainees at six jails, including one in Santa Rosa, N.M., have announced a proposed settlement with prison operator GEO Group Inc.

A Pennsylvania law firm, Chimicles & Tikellis, negotiated a $2.99 million settlement, excluding legal fees – up to $400 for all eligible class members – after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case.

The settlement covers GEO-run correctional facilities in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

The settlement for the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa covers the period from Jan. 30, 2005, to Jan. 30, 2008.

Class members may be eligible if they entered the GEO-operated facility after being charged with minor crimes that did not involve drugs, weapons or violence, if they have no past criminal history or charges, and did not behave in a way at intake that would give officers grounds for such a search.

The lawsuit alleging constitutional violations was filed in 2006 against GEO, a Florida corporation, over strip searches allegedly conducted regardless of whether there was reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe the person had weapons or contraband. The class representatives included a woman in a pretrial diversion program for a DUI arrest who was taken to a room with other female weekend inmates and strip-searched in front of the inmates, and a man who mistakenly failed to appear for a scheduled court date resulting from a domestic dispute and was strip-searched.

The settlement does not include individuals who were convicted at the time that they were admitted to the facility.

The GEO settlement is one of a half-dozen class actions against county jails in New Mexico based on a blanket policy to strip-search individuals.

A 2006 class action complaint was filed against Management and Training Corp., which managed the Santa Fe County jail, on behalf of an estimated 13,000 inmates. Similar lawsuits were filed against Cornell Companies, for individuals detained at the Doña Ana County jail, and the Valencia County jail.

Bob Rothstein, whose Santa Fe-based firm filed five of the strip-search lawsuits, said thousands of individuals were paid claims in the settlement of the cases.

He said a memo surfaced after the first one was filed in Santa Fe. It was from the New Mexico Association of Counties, warning counties to review their strip-search policies to prevent the kind of litigation Santa Fe was then facing.

“They didn’t,” he said.

Link To Complete Article HERE

Battling Over Jail Contracts

By 2010 Jeff Proctor
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
 
Carlos Villanueva was brought from the Bernalillo County Public Works Department to the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2009 and was assigned to review big-ticket contracts for medical, food and laundry services at the massive lockup. 


His findings, which the county disputes: millions of dollars of overcharges in the form of discrepancies between amounts on invoices and how much the county paid.

I know where the money went,” he said in an interview with the Journal. “I just don’t know why.”


Villanueva said he reported his findings to top county officials in a series of meetings in October 2009, and says all three — County Manager Thaddeus Lucero, Deputy County Manager for Public Safety John Dantis and MDC director Ron Torres — promised to look into it. 

The county later hired outside firms to audit the two contracts Villanueva had reviewed. The chairwoman of the county’s Internal Audit Committee confirmed that one of the audits had found discrepancies; the other is not yet completed.

Villanueva said auditors met with him Friday to discuss his findings on the medical services contract.
   

If Villanueva was hoping for a commendation from the county for his report, he didn’t get it.

Less than two weeks after his meetings with county brass, he was demoted to the mailroom — where he kept his $52,000 salary despite having what he says were “no discernible duties” — and his access was pulled from most county computer systems.

He was told he would report directly to Torres, who sent him the e-mail advising him of his reassignment. On April 16, Villanueva says, he was fired. 

Among the claims pointed out in Villanueva’s reviews:

• A discrepancy showed the county paid CMS $2,906,544 more than was listed on the invoices from Sept. 23, 2008, to Aug. 19, 2009.
• A $94,793 difference in the monthly charges CMS should have been paid under the contract and was actually being paid starting in August 2009. 


• County taxpayers were being charged 6.88 percent tax on consumables for inmates at the jail instead of the state-mandated rate of 6.875 percent. “No one is allowed to change the tax rate by rounding up,” Villanueva wrote in his review. Moreover, he claimed the jail was charging inmates a further tax on consumables, contrary to state law. The overcharge paid to Canteen was about $1.3 million. 

Read Full Article

County Makes Another Jail Problem Go Away

Albuquerque Journal Editorial
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How nice former jail guard Roslyn Juanico won’t have incarceration clogging up her summer schedule or an ankle bracelet snagging her strappy sandals.
Meanwhile, Avery Hadley will spend his summer with permanent brain damage, the victim of a brutal jailhouse beating videotaped on Juanico’s watch, in Juanico’s pod, at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Pat Davis, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, says the office discovered the most Juanico could be charged with was a misdemeanor of compounding a crime/failing to act. State District Court Judge Charlie Brown signed off on her no jail/no supervised probation plea deal. Juanico’s attorney, Mark Fine, says Hadley and Juanico are both “victims of mismanagement at MDC.”

Amid the too-common refrain of “everyone did everything they could,” county taxpayers are left wondering why someone like Juanico wasn’t handed any jail time, or an ankle bracelet, or a deal that precludes her ever being a jail guard again. That’s despite the fact authorities have said the prisoner who almost beat Hadley to death was Juanico’s “enforcer.”

And taxpayers are left wondering if an inmate-to-guard ratio of 64-plus to 1 is worth a life irrevocably damaged or the cost of dealing with lawsuits.

There’s also the guard having sex with an inmate, having his baby and having him move in upon release; another beaten and hospitalized inmate; a guard-on-inmate rape case; and a videotape of guards slamming shackled inmates to the floor.

Back in June, on the heels of the Hadley beating, the County Commission asked for a list of names of possible investigators to look into problems at the jail.

Almost a year later, it’s status quo at MDC, where one guard is left in charge of up to 96 prisoners with just a video monitor for backup when things go wrong.
Experience shows things all too often go very wrong at MDC. Taxpayers might never know if adjusting training, staffing or supervision would have prevented Hadley being kicked in the head 20 times or the other inexcusable events at the $90 million lockup.

But they deserve answers before another person ends up in the hospital or worse courtesy of MDC, another case winds up in court, and lawyers, prosecutors and judges repeat a chorus of “everyone did everything they could.”