2 former inmates sue over rodent infestation at women’s prison in Grants

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Two women say they were locked up in a New Mexico prison and living with rats. Now, the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project are filing a lawsuit. The former inmates worked in the kitchen at the women’s prison in Grants. They say the area was the “epicenter of the infestation.”

“We intend to force the state to finally pay attention to this basic sanitation failure in the women’s prison,” said Matthew Coyte in a news release, a civil rights attorney who also serves on the NMPJP steering committee. “It is unhealthy for both prisoners and staff and has been allowed to continue for too long. It is a sad reality that nothing changes in our prison system unless someone is willing to step forward and file suit.”

The women claim their physical safety was threatened with exposure to possible disease. The newly filed civil suit is suing the New Mexico Corrections Department and Summit Food Service LLC, arguing the women’s constitutional rights were violated.

In a statement from the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, they say, since 2017, NMCD and Summit staff have been fully aware of the rodent infestation. According to the same news release, the New Mexico Environment Department has been cited several times over the years for violations relating to the rodents.

“New Mexico has the highest number of cases of hantavirus of any state in the country,” said NMPJP director Steven Robert Allen in a news release. “The prison is located in Cibola County, which has the fourth-highest number of hantavirus cases of New Mexico’s 33 counties. As we all know, rodents can transmit hantavirus and numerous other dangerous diseases and illnesses. It’s completely irresponsible for New Mexico Corrections Department staff to expose these women to that kind of mortal danger.” 

“It’s unconscionable that the New Mexico Corrections Department would let a rodent infestation spin out of control like this,” said Barron Jones in a news release, Senior Policy Strategist at American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico who also serves on NMPJP’s steering committee, “and this has been going on for years. This wasn’t a matter of a few rats here and there. There are rodents living in the walls and vents in and near the kitchen and cafeteria that are breeding and multiplying in enormous numbers. It is just not OK to put people in conditions like this.”

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