By Sandy . . . After several months, the Corona Virus – Covid-19 – shows no signs of abating. Indeed, it is spiking with higher numbers than at any previous point in some states.
New Mexico is one of these.
Social distancing and staying-at-home when possible, along with frequent handwashing and disinfecting of the environment, are known to be the best barriers against contacting the disease. Recognizing this, those in charge of prisons throughout the country put in place pre-release and home confinement programs for portions of their prison population. Some excluded those with sexual offenses from participating in the programs, but others recognized that was a foolish stance to take. See here, here, here, here, and here.
While quite a few states have made the decision not to release those with sexual convictions, as far as can be determined, none but one made the decision to move as many as possible convicted of a sexual crime into the same prison while at the same time moving out all inmates with convictions of any other type.
The prison is the Otero County Prison Facility. It is the only prison institution in New Mexico housing a sex offender treatment program. The non-sexual offense convictees were moved out in May. For weeks prior to that and, apparently, continuing even today, many with convictions for a sexual offense were being moved into Otero from other facilities.
Otero also has the distinction of being the only state institution with more than one case of Covid-19. It has, as of June 27, 434 cases, 80% of its total inmate population. Three have died, and eight more are critically ill enough to have been removed from the prison and taken to the hospital.
The single day of June 5 alone saw 129 new individuals testing positive for the virus.
Not a single one, no matter how elderly, no matter how ill, no matter how high risk, has been granted release on a home confinement program or under pre-release conditions. This is due to an executive order from New Mexico governor Michelle Grisham forbidding the release of anyone with a sexual crime conviction.
New Mexico was originally touted in the national press for its low numbers of those testing positive. It was hailed as a state progressive in its prevention techniques and strong leadership in enforcing positive preventive measures. This abandonment of a distinct category of its prison population, however, should have officials hanging their heads in shame. State officials claim that they were not deliberately making a decision about whose lives where worth saving and whose were not.
The facts say otherwise.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.