ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico prison officials in early March will begin moving the first of 288 violent or predatory sex offenders to a privately run detention facility in Otero County.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/VZlfDi ) that corrections officials believe the move will save money and provide better treatment options for sex offenders, while key lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of putting sex offenders in what they described as a “county jail.”
A legislative committee has questions about whether Utah-based jail operator Management and Training Corp. can securely house the prisoners and provide the services at a price that’s lower than the costs of housing inmates at state-run prisons and other private prisons in New Mexico.
Management and Training Corp., or MTC, was in charge of the Kingman, Ariz., prison when three prisoners broke out in 2010. Two of them and an accomplice are accused of killing an Oklahoma couple on vacation in New Mexico before they were recaptured.
An investigation into the escape found MTC security at the medium-security prison was lacking. Alarm systems didn’t work. Perimeter guards were assigned other duties, and there were other security issues. The company said it has corrected any security deficiencies and has passed its most recent audit by the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Joe Booker, deputy corrections secretary for operations in New Mexico, said the agency is confident the facility will be secure.
Company spokesman Issa Arnita said the prison already houses maximum-security inmates sent there by the U.S. Marshals Service and other federal agencies. “The facility is well designed for separating specialized populations,” Arnita said.
MTC operates the prison under a contract with Otero County, which owns the facility. It has a capacity of more than 1,300 prisoners and currently has more than 800 federal and local inmates.
Deputy Corrections Secretary Aurora Sanchez said the department will move about 20 inmates in early March as MTC trains officers and hopes to move a total of 288 sex offenders within a year.
Sanchez said the inmates currently are spread throughout the seven state and private run prisons in New Mexico, and many are held in maximum security cells around the prison system.
Sanchez said the plan to move sex offenders to the Otero County facility was made, in part, as a response to a Legislative Finance Committee staff report critical of the department. The committee found that too many inmates were serving their parole time inside prison, which costs the state millions of dollars and leads to high recidivism rates.
Legislative staffers also were concerned how the facility would provide treatment and programs at a cost of $71 a day per inmate. That’s lower than the nearly $87 a day cost of housing inmates at other private prisons in the state and lower than the $108 a day it costs to house inmates in state-run prisons.
Since it’s unlikely lawmakers will approve extra money to house the inmates at the Otero County facility, Sanchez said the department would pay for the contract out of its budget and with $4 million in reduced payments to other private prisons for failing to meet their contract conditions.