The Department of Corrections has not learned from the horrific lessons taught by the 1980 riot. Staff shortages, rolling lockdowns, excessive use of solitary confinement and corruption still plague our prison system.
In a recent series of Journal articles, the president of the Correctional Officers’ Union warned that the same issues present before the 1980 riot still exist today. Former Secretary of Corrections Gregg Marcantel summarized the policies of the last 30 years as “containment,” which has encouraged violent social groups – gangs. Marcantel candidly explained that inmates leave the system “more violent than when they entered.”
In disturbing contrast, current Secretary of Corrections Alisha Tafoya Lucero thinks things are fine. When speaking to the Journal she said; “I believe our institutions are safer.” Which institutions is she referring to? Certainly not the ones that house approximately 7,000 humans living in constant fear. Certainly not the facilities that face 26% staff shortages and turnover rates that would cripple a normal business.
During the Jan. 29 Journal/KANW town hall meeting about the riot, the union president said his staff does not feel safe. Tafoya Lucero was asked what she would do if she were given a “magic wand” to make changes in the system. Incredibly, she had no ideas. Instead, she used her allotted debate time to congratulate her staff on the wonderful job they do.
She didn’t address the union president’s concerns about safety or use the “magic wand” she was offered. She didn’t wish for an educational program that could teach prisoners basic life skills or college degrees. She didn’t consider asking for a facility where she could safely house inmates who wished to extricate themselves from gangs or consider asking for a non-profit medical provider to provide adequate care to prisoners and staff alike. She didn’t think to say she needed money to pay for Hepatitis C treatment, a disease that currently infects 45% of the prison population in New Mexico – who, when released, then spread it to the community. She didn’t ask for a more comprehensive staff training program that focuses on rehabilitation techniques and takes two years, like the one Norway has. She could even have waived her wand for a 6-month training program such as the one the Russians use, but instead, she bragged about the 8-week training program New Mexico offers.