|* The inmates sent to
Virginia's Level VI Wallens Ridge State Prison were not involved in the murder of a
* 71% of our inmates are minorities.
* Female incarceration rates have increased by 116% since 1995.
* Male incarceration rate has increased by 31% since 1995.
* Private prisons in NM CANNOT provide safe conditions for inmates or staff.
Lack of appropriate medical care
for inmates, insufficient food, harsh and inconsistent policies, and complete indifference
to the plight of families, characterizes the present state of affairs which exists in New
responsibility for the management and rehabilitation of prisoners from the government, and
places it in the hands of private corporations. This is forbidden in the state
Constitution of New Mexico-- profits at the expense of people, punishment instead of
rehabilitation, bottom line instead of human rights.
House speaker Raymond
Sanchez stated-"You substitute a profit motive for what should be the priority of
government-the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens. You substitute accountability
to a board of directors for accountability to a community."
I met with Tilda and Mr.
Dwight Duran in her Albuquerque, NM home. His lawsuit
settlement, known as the Duran Consent Decree, is well known in law schools. Mr. Duran's
name is synonymous with prisoners' rights. Mr. Duran heads the board of directors of COPA!
NM. Tilda considers him a mentor and a prime motivating force behind her activist
Tilda became aware of
the prison system when her son Alex (19) was adjudicated in the fall of 1998. She
states-"I was immobilized with grief, pain shock, and shame. I felt like I was
wearing a wet, dark woolen cape. I didn't want to see anyone and I mourned".
While Alex was awaiting
trial she spoke with him twice a week. "Prisoners MUST call collect, and a 20 minute
call costs $20!" "I became emotionally and financially bankrupt. I worried about
a young guy in there with all the hardened criminals and violent offenders."
Her turning point was an ACLU event. It was there she realized that she was not alone, and
that her situation wasn't the worst of the worst. She felt the need for a more direct
approach by activism, and worked with other families to create COPA! NM.
In August 1999, after a
state caused prison riot in Santa Rosa, a contract was quickly crafted which shipped 109
inmates to Wallens Ridge Supermax in Virginia as "punishment".
Unfortunately, very few violent prisoners were included; some were there for shoplifting,
possession of a controlled substance, or even failure to pay child support. Their
treatment has been appalling, and is now the subject of official
investigations. Inmates have been dragged, placed in restraints, shot with
stun guns, and terrorized with attack dogs. Guards wouldn't allow them to meet personal
needs-even taking bets on how long it would take prisoners to soil their clothes!
After numerous deaths
and outcries from various states, some prisoners have started returning home, even though
their families aren't being notified . Tilda is concerned that some prisoners may have
disappeared, and are unaccounted for. In her view, prisons are meant for
rehabilitation, not punishment. In the eyes of the judicial system, once you have
completed your debt to society, you should no longer be "punished".
By turning people into profits and removing any rehabilitation and educational efforts,
you are creating a vicious circle of hate and anger, and fostering recidivism.
Almost all prisoners will be returned to the community eventually. Society has to live
with, and deal with, what the system has created. We are all directly affected by this
travesty, and need to speak out against these injustices.
by Barb Sweeney [email protected]