SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s prison system is implementing a training program in which inmates will renovate wheelchairs that will be distributed internationally to disabled people by a Christian ministry group.
Gov. Susana Martinez and Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel outlined the program Monday with representatives from the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, which will supply used wheelchairs to be refurbished.
Prisons in other states, including Louisiana, have partnered with the group on its “Wheels for the World” program, which has distributed about 99,000 wheelchairs in more than 100 countries. A Bible and religious message also are given to the people who receive a wheelchair. Inmates will receive pictures of wheelchair recipients.
Martinez said the goal is to provide inmates with skills that can help them when they are released from prison, but also to make them more caring about people.
“This is one of those programs that lets them develop a skill that sometimes many inmates lack, and that is to have a heart and to do something for others that they may never meet,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Department of Corrections headquarters outside of Santa Fe.
Marcantel said 10 inmates initially will participate in the program at a state prison in Las Cruces, but it could be expanded later. The wheelchair renovation program should be operating next spring.
He and the governor said the Corrections Department also hopes to have inmates use their training to repair bicycles obtained from law enforcement agencies, which may have seized them as evidence in crimes and would eventually discard them.
Martinez said the repaired bicycles will be donated to needy children as Christmas gifts.
The training program is part of the department’s efforts to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement. Marcantel said inmates selected for the training will be affiliated with gangs but “have not been preying on other inmates.” At least 80 inmates have been moved from segregation to the prison in Las Cruces, and participants in the wheelchair repair program will be selected from them.