ACLU urges lawmakers to reform prison oversight

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – On Monday, October 17th, the ACLU went before state lawmakers using video surveillance to make the case that New Mexico’s prison system needs to be better controlled. They used a recent video that exposed guards standing around watching a prisoner being beaten by other prisoners.

The ACLU says there have been 74 settlements with the Department of Corrections over the past four years. A lawyer who often represents prisoners against the state says it’s time for independent oversight.

“You want to have someone who has fresh eyes and an open mind who is not in any way burdened by some connection to the system that they are overseeing,” Matthew Coyte, a civil rights and corrections attorney at the Interim Judiciary Committee meeting, said. .

The Interim Committee on Courts, Corrections and Judiciary watched a video showing the inmate being assaulted for about thirty seconds while officers stood back and watched, knowing the security cameras were working.

The video from Los Lunas State Prison was sent anonymously to the ACLU. A civil rights attorney says it shows that prison officials think they are untouchable — that they know anything they do will be swept under the rug. Democratic lawmakers like Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Senator Patricia Roybal Caballero have shown support for the changes.

They also discussed staffing shortages and the need to bring in better quality corrections officers — with better pay and incentives for earning a college degree. Coyote said, “If you’re going to give one prisoner a college education, why not give it to a guard? Is not it? So invest in people and the culture will slowly change.”

Two years ago, an attempt was made to pass a law on prison supervision. This would allow outside investigators access to documents, prisoners and guards. They would not decide on discipline, they would only write reports. The ACLU says the new bill will look similar to the previous one, which never made it to a vote.

According to the secretary of the Department of Corrections, the August prison fight incident is still under investigation.

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