NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico is switching from relying on private corporations to run prisons to having the state take them over. However, one group believes the switch is concerning.

The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project (NMPJP) supports getting rid of privately run prisons. However, the group warns as the state takes over, conditions inside state prisons might not improve.

“It doesn’t necessarily change the way people are treated or improve the way these systems work,” said the Director of the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, Steven Robert Allen.

The group points out another problem – the state is still on the hook for renting those facilities.

According to the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), in 2019, the state converted the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton from private to state-run. Then in 2021, New Mexico took control of the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants. The Guadalupe Correctional facility in Santa Rosa was also switched in 2021. Even though the New Mexico Corrections Department now controls these prisons, they are paying rent to the same companies that used to run them.

The state pays CoreCivic more than $2 million to lease the facility in Grants and more than $4 million to the GEO Group for the facility in Santa Rosa. While the town of Clayton is paid almost $6 million to lease its prison.

Allen added, “They’re still making money. What is the difference? What is being accomplished here?”

Allen said he would rather see some of the prisons shut down to focus and improve on a few facilities, especially as New Mexico’s prison population declines. “Ultimately, we would like to see some of these prisons close and put more resources into the people that remain. Get them better education, better job training, get them better substance abuse treatment,” Allen mentioned.

The group said this would help those incarcerated not cycle back into the system when they get out. “If we care about public safety, if we care about reducing crime, then we have to care about how these people are treated,” said Allen.

The state hopes the change will allow them to offer better pay and benefits to employees while also improving safety. According to NMCD, there were 300 state jobs created through converting the three private facilities.

There are now eight state-operated facilities and two remaining privately owned facilities. The last private facilities are the Lea County Correctional Facility and the Otero County Prison Facility.