SANTA FE, N.M. – As 100 AFSCME Council 18 and CWA Local 7076 members rallied at the State Capitol in support of increased funding to address dangerous understaffing inside New Mexico’s correctional facilities, an incident was developing at one of the state-run facilities.
Inmates at Central New Mexico Correctional Facility, agitated after learning their family visitation hours were canceled under a new state policy to provide more recovery time for corrections officers, began hurling food trays. A team of six officers responded and were able to quell the uprising with threats of releasing tear gas and applying lethal force.
“They shut down visits almost every weekend … that’s the inmate’s support,” Lt. Jonenne Poissot Owens, a New Mexico corrections officer, warned the crowd at the Capitol. “You have angry inmates that are locked in cells that have nothing better to do than to plot the officer’s demise, while the officer is doing the job of three and four other people.”
The New Mexico Corrections Department initiative, “Operation Recovery and Staff Wellness,” minimizes family visitation hours and shutters special rehabilitation programs. While it may be a well-intentioned attempt to provide COs much-needed recovery time, AFSCME Council 18 believes the new program is a “Band-Aid” solution for a wound that can only be healed by hiring more officers across the state.
Currently, high-vacancy rates are addressed by requiring officers to work 72-hour workweeks, making adequate recovery time impossible. There’s a direct link between Saturday’s incident and Gov. Susana Martinez’s policies affecting state employment. Officers are concerned that conditions will worsen as more criminals are incarcerated without giving the department resources necessary to carry out these mandates.
“Public services have been undervalued [and] public employees have been overlooked,” added Connie Derr, Council 18 executive director. “So we are telling them [state leaders] to find a way…to change this. They can’t take the easy way out, they’ve got to find a way.”
Council 18 members delivered over 900 petition signatures to state officials after the rally with testimonials from officers detailing the challenges they’re facing everyday.