New Mexico prisoners being released early to curb spread of COVID-19

Coronavirus New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM (KFOX14) — State offenders across New Mexico will have their sentences cut short to help curb the spread of COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Corrections Department.

The Corrections Department is in charge of thousands of inmates at 11 different facilities across New Mexico. Corrections officials said in a press conference on Wednesday that 71 inmates have already been released from their custody and they are in the process of releasing more.

“We’re looking at reducing our population through other means and some of that might equal us relocating inmates to other locations. It may also lead us to seek out people who we know are incarcerated for parole violations. We have been reaching out to the parole board so that we can work together to get some individuals out early,” Alisha Tafoya Lucero, the cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Corrections Department said.

At all 11 state facilities, there is a total of 415 positive cases, 412 of those, are at the Otero County Prison.“Of the cases in Otero County Facility, there are 109 cases that are currently identified as having recovered and at present, there are eight individuals that are hospitalized due to COVID,” Lucero said. “Tragically our state has experience three deaths of individuals in our custody.”

Officials said the layout of the Otero County Prison, makes it a challenge to social distance.“It is eight large dormitory housing units that have 72 beds in each of these units. There are also two housing units that house 22 and all of these areas are open bay, dormitory housing units,” Lucero said.

While positive inmates are separated from negative ones, when an inmate does test positive they may still be living in a negative pod. “What the complication is here, is that we move an individual out of a unit and relocate them to an area where they will be housed among other positive people, but until they tested positive, they had potentially exposed other individuals that lived in that same dormitory setting,” Lucero said.

They believe this is what’s contributing to the spread. “This is a very sneaky virus, it’s efficient at moving around in populations and it’s particularly good in the congregate settings such as this,” Dr. Chad Smelser, the state epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health said.

Corrections officials said they’ve amped up their testing efforts at the Otero County Prison. As of now, 100% of their staff are being tested weekly and inmates are being tested every 2 to 3 days.

Other proactive steps officials say they’re taking at all their facilities include:

  • Entry into institutions is limited to essential staff only.
  • All inmates and staff are required to wear face coverings.
  • Common areas and high touch surfaces are sanitized hourly.
  • Specialty sanitation is available and utilized at all locations.
  • Information about COVID-19 and proper hand washing and hygiene is posted throughout facilities.
  • Inmate sanitation and hygiene issuance has been doubled.
  • Social distancing in common areas is being mandated.
  • All persons entering facilities are medically screened and temperature scanned.
  • Staff working in medical isolation and medical quarantine units do not work in other areas.

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