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House backs restrictions on solitary confinement

SANTA FE —New Mexico’s jails and prisons would face new limits on the use of solitary confinement for inmates under a bill approved 38-22 by the state House late Saturday.

The proposal now heads to the Senate, as the legislative session moves into its final week.

House Bill 175 would prohibit solitary confinement for inmates who are pregnant or under 18 years old.

Inmates with a serious mental disability could be held in solitary confinement for up to 48 hours, but only if there’s an imminent threat of physical harm to the inmate or another person.

The corrections administrator would have to notify medical staff and prepare a written plan to transition the inmate out of isolated confinement.

There’s also an exception that would allow solitary confinement when an inmate first enters a jail or prison.

The bill defines solitary confinement as “restricted housing” — keeping an inmate confined to a cell for 22 hours a day or more without meaningful human interaction.

House Bill 175 is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Antonio “Moe”Maestas of Albuquerque and Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup.

Maestas said it’s inhumane to put someone struggling with a serious mental illness in solitary confinement.

Prisons and jails would also have to provide quarterly reports with demographic data and explanations for inmates kept in isolated confinement.

“If they throw someone in the hole,” Maestas said, “they need to document it. They need to tell us.”

Opponents said some of the language was too broad and would be burdensome to carry out.

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