Head of New Mexico prisons says current level of oversight ‘more than enough’

By: - December 14, 2022 4:30 am

A New Mexico Department of Corrections official walks toward the front entrance of the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants in November 2021. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source New Mexico)

A proposal in the upcoming session could result in more scrutiny of New Mexico’s prisons, but the person in charge of the prison system said this week that the oversight already in place is more than enough.

Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces) asked New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero whether  there is opportunity for more supervision of the state’s prison system.

“In my opinion, no,” Lucero responded during a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee on Monday. “We have a lot of oversight bodies that we’re already part of.”

The department is an executive agency under the management of the governor, Tafoya Lucero said.

“I believe that is more than enough,” she said.

Barron Jones, a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, and Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena (D-Mesilla) last week talked with the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 7 about the need for more diligent oversight of the department managing the state’s prison systems.

“At best, our prison systems are opaque. And at worst, they’re secretive,” Jones said.

Cadena and Jones will champion a proposal in the upcoming session to bring public accountability and transparency to the department which, for example, is facing allegations of sexual humiliation and abuse of incarcerated people.

They want support to set up a New Mexico Corrections Oversight Commission to better address issues with the department.

But Tafoya Lucero said on Monday in addition to the already existing administration by the governor, the department is accredited by the American Correctional Association, a nonprofit organization that has accredited facilities shown to hold people in appalling conditions.

Tafoya Lucero added the department has “a lot of oversight” through legislation and from the Legislative Finance Committee, though she did not offer specifics. She said the department has “a very robust” Constituent Services Office.

Rep. Small seemed to disagree.

“From my experience coming from southern New Mexico, there are, it seems to me, opportunities for certainly greater engagement, likely greater oversight,” he said, “and hopefully, a shared sort of reaching of the goals that we share, which is fundamentally to keep our communities safe.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.