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State seeks space for 850 female prisoners

SANTA FE – The Corrections Department is asking private prison companies to submit proposals for housing 850 female prisoners – up from about 670 currently held – so the state doesn’t get caught short, Secretary Gregg Marcantel said Thursday.

The current contract with Corrections Corporation of America, operator of the women’s prison at Grants, expires next year and the department is requesting proposals by April 30 for an 850-bed facility.

Marcantel said he’d rather see the prison population reduced, and that’s the department’s intent. But the state has to keep up with the projected growth in the number of inmates, he said.

“This is not about trying to grow our prisons,” Marcantel told the Legislative Finance Committee, which was questioning him about a $4 million budget shortfall this year. The department’s budget is about $270 million.


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He told reporters after the meeting that crowded conditions at the Grants prison in the past forced the department to send some women to the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility, a men’s prison where there weren’t programs for them.

The Grants facility, the only prison where women currently are housed, has a capacity of 706 and has 668 inmates, department spokeswoman Alex Tomlin said Thursday.

A report by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission projects the female inmate population will reach just over 800 by 2023.

The winning bidder – whose contract would be at most eight years – wouldn’t have to provide 850 beds immediately but would have to have the capacity to meet the projected need, Marcantel said.

He told lawmakers a big reason for the growth in the women’s prison population is that programs to reduce recidivism have been male-oriented. Women’s programming, for example, could put more emphasis on connecting inmates to their children, Marcantel told reporters.

Bette Fleishman, executive director of the New Mexico Women’s Justice Project, told the legislative committee she is concerned about the planned big increase in the number of beds.

“Once a prison or a jail has that capacity, it gets filled out,” she said.

The growing overall prison population is swelled by inmates – nearly 300 currently – who are eligible for release but still behind bars for various reasons that include a shortage of community placement opportunities for parolees.