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Otero County Prison reveals testing levels

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The private company that runs a southern New Mexico prison and processing center finally shed some light on testing levels at the facilities on Thursday and revealed that more than two dozen staff members have contracted COVID-19.

Issa Arnita, spokesman with Management and Training Corp., said 21 staff members at the Otero County Prison Facility and seven at the Otero County Processing Center have tested positive and three federal inmates are hospitalized with the virus – figures that had so far been left out of daily COVID-19 updates from the New Mexico Department of Health.

The Otero County Prison Facility, which separately houses federal and state inmates, and the adjacent Otero County Processing Center, which holds detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have been ground zero for COVID-19 outbreaks among prisoners in New Mexico, with more than 800 cases and four deaths between them.

On Thursday, Arnita said they have tested 566 federal inmates and 300 staff at the prison and 692 detainees and 69 staff members at the ICE processing center.

Arnita did not give population levels at the processing center but said due to “inmate movement” – transfers in and out – there are currently 476 federal inmates housed at the Otero prison.

According to DOH, 275 – or 58% – of federal inmates there have tested positive for COVID-19.

The state side of the Otero County Prison holds the majority of the inmates who have tested positive with 427 cases among 539 inmates.

During a webinar Wednesday the New Mexico Corrections Department and DOH expressed frustration with a lack of communication, spotty testing standards and protocols from federal agencies that share the facility. Attorneys representing clients held by those federal agencies have expressed many of the same concerns.

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