CLAYTON, N.M. (KRQE) – The state’s Department of Corrections announced plans Thursday to take over the operations of the Clayton prison.
Officially known as the “Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility,” the prison has been operated by a private firm called the “Geo Group” for the last decade. By September, the facility is likely to be under state control.
While both sides say the split is a “mutual agreement,” the Clayton prison has also seen its fair share of issues centered around staffing.
The operational change comes after KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker exposed problems at the prison tied to a low level of staff working at the facility.
In 2017, the prison was home to one of New Mexico’s most significant inmate uprisings in the past few decades, however, no one knew about it for several months.
The uprising started when an inexperienced prison guard let convicted serial killer Clifton Bloomfield out of his cell for an unknown reason. That guard is now facing criminal charges for the incident, which led to a cell block riot.
Larry Barker’s investigative report exposed how the Clayton prison’s operator, the Geo Group has struggled for years to hire enough staff to run the facility according to operational guidelines.
The Geo Group now says its staffing shortage is a prime reason behind the firm handing over the Clayton prison’s facility operations to the state.
“The Clayton facility is very challenging when it comes to staffing,” said James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Geo Group.
The Geo Group also claims the state hasn’t raised the “per diem” amount of money it pays out to house each inmate. The private firm claims that money would have gone toward making more competitive employee salaries.
“The most important thing is making sure we maintain a safe prison that continue to employee New Mexicans, and the best way to do that at this point is to transition that over to the state,” said Hallinan.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office released a statement Thursday saying the state is currently in negotiations with the town of Clayton to take over operations.
“The negotiations have been productive and amicable. All parties share an emphasis on the need to maintain employment in Clayton and ensure safe conditions for both facility employees and inmates,” said New Mexico Correction Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero.
The Geo Group is expected to relinquish control of the facility to the state’s Department of Corrections by September 25.
The state’s Department of Corrections says it will keep the Clayton facility fully operational. They also believe they’ll have better luck hiring more staff because they’ll be able to pay more.
If the transition happens as expected, it would be the first private prison in New Mexico to be taken over by the state.