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          Front Page




Operations at Prison Criticized

By Trip Jennings
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— State lawmakers said they were appalled Monday as they learned how a private prison company runs a women's jail in Albuquerque where a correctional officer is alleged to have raped four prisoners.
    Female prisoners at Camino Nuevo are awakened at night and taken from their cells to clean the minimum-security prison.
    Correctional officers at Camino Nuevo this weekend told visiting lawmakers they had no special training for overseeing women.
    "I am appalled— no training at a women's facility," Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, told Corrections Secretary Joe Williams during a legislative hearing at the Capitol.
    "I cannot understand how we are so bad when it comes to policies with women," said Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.
    The scrutiny by lawmakers comes a month after a former correctional officer, Anthony Townes, was charged with raping four inmates at Camino Nuevo over a period of several months.
    One victim has alleged that Townes pulled her out of her cell in the early morning to take her to a part of the prison where there were no cameras and raped her.
    Townes had not entered a plea in the case as of Friday.
    Critics charge that the intimidating culture at Camino Nuevo has kept other possible victims from coming forward. They believe a complete change is needed.
    "This was not a case of just a bad guy working in a facility," Angie Vachio of the Women's Justice Project said last week. "It was a bad guy who took advantage of a bad environment."
    Ed Mahr, a lobbyist for Corrections Corp. of America, which operates Camino Nuevo, said the company has an excellent record in New Mexico but that, whenever a new lockup opens, there are growing pains.
    Camino Nuevo opened last year to relieve overcrowding at the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility in Grants.
    "These aren't opening pains," said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque. "These are deadly wounds."
    Williams told lawmakers that he had found no intimidating atmosphere at Camino Nuevo during his several visits to the jail since the incidents.
    However, Williams agreed to an independent review of Camino Nuevo by the National Institute of Corrections, a development that critics said is necessary.
    Williams also said he would end the practice of waking female inmates up in the middle of the night to clean the facility, which he said is standard practice in other prisons.
    "I didn't know it was an issue until now," Williams said after the hearing.
    McSorley said that when he and Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque, showed up unannounced to tour Camino Nuevo on Sunday the warden offered to show them an area where a female prisoner was showering.
    All that separated the woman from the lawmakers was the shower curtain, McSorley said.
    The two lawmakers declined.
    "I was embarrassed," McSorley said.
    He said it exemplified the lack of sensitivity at Camino Nuevo.