New Mexico has one of the smallest prison populations in the country at 7,300 but is fourth in the nation when it comes to confining prisoners to solitary, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
On any given day one out of 10 prisoners is being held in isolation, just because they have been diagnosed with mental illness, accord- ing to the article.
According to the ACLU, the state has routinely underreported its use of solitary confinement over the past decade, in part because it has no clear definition of “solitary” and instead uses “multiple and constantly changing terms” to refer to the practice.
Researchers from the University of New Mexico along with the ACLU found that 90% of the prisoners surveyed said they had been diagnosed with mental health problems and had been enrolled in the Preda- tory Behavioral Management Program and spent eight months in solitary confinement, according to the article.
Criminal defense attorney Matthew Coyte said that solitary confinement is an issue that poses cost and safety problems for the public.
Coyte, who worked with the ACLU, says that segregation only worsens a prisoner’s mental state instead of providing rehabilitation, said the article.
“We have been manu- facturing mental illness for years with this form of incar- ceration,” he said. “You don’t want people who are incar- cerated to come out worse.”
Prisoners in isolation com- plained about a lack of recreation time, losing track of time, experiencing violent thoughts, fits of rage, and hearing voices. Some had thoughts of suicide, the article said.
The Corrections department and the governor are trying to come up with some solutions, but they are having a hard time hiring and retaining officers. At the release of this story in March, they were still look- ing for a Secretary of Corrections, according to the article.
Several Democrats are sponsoring a bill that would stop the isolation of juveniles and pregnant women and confine those diagnosed with mental issues to no more than 48 hours in lockup.
The governor wants to take a look at New Mexico’s Department of Corrections policies on solitary confinement and suicides in the prisons, said the article. She said that solitary confinement “should be used in only the most extreme and narrow circumstances.”
Josh Anderson, a union representative for prison officers, said that the group is open to looking at how to improve living conditions and is reviewing policies for managing the state’s prisons, according to the article.