SANTA FE – Julie Jones, a former corrections secretary in Florida, will join Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration to oversee New Mexico’s prison system.
The appointment of Jones gives Lujan Grisham a full complement of cabinet secretaries to run state departments. They still require senate confirmation but can begin work right away.
Lujan Grisham and Jones said they will push to address chronic understaffing in the state Corrections Department and evaluate whether the state is overusing solitary confinement for inmates. They said they will also focus on programming to help prepare inmates for the transition back into the community.
“We’re not going to warehouse people,” Jones said. “We’re going to rehabilitate them.”
New Mexico relies heavily on private prisons, and Jones said she is familiar with the companies that operate in the state.
Jones was the Florida corrections secretary from 2015 until this year – a job that put her in charge of the third largest state prison system in the country.
It was a challenging job. Under her leadership, the department faced criticism last year when Florida corrections officials reduced spending on substance-abuse services, transitional housing and re-entry programs – cuts they said were necessary because lawmakers hadn’t fully funded the prison system, according to the News Service of Florida.
Lujan Grisham said Jones’ work in Florida demonstrates her willingness to take on a complex, difficult system.
“This is a really big, tough job,” Lujan Grisham said. “I want someone who is willing to tackle any challenge.”
Jones has a broad background in government. Before serving as corrections secretary in Florida, she had worked as executive director of Florida’s highway safety department and director of law enforcement at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Lujan Grisham also suggested Thursday that she’s willing to rethink New Mexico’s use of solitary confinement in prisons. Her predecessor vetoed legislation in 2017 that would have curbed the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates and minors. Then-Gov. Susana Martinez said the proposal would have endangered safety by limiting the options of prison officials.
Lujan Grisham said her administration will evaluate the issue.
“Solitary confinement, in my opinion, should be used in only the most extreme and narrow circumstances,” Lujan Grisham said. “I’m not convinced that has always been the case in this state.”
Jones’ appointment pushes the percentage of cabinet secretaries who are women to 64 percent.