The following article written by the Rio Grande Foundation’s Patrick Brenner appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on March 10, 2021. It also appeared in several other New Mexico based outlets.
Contractor-operated prisons, or so-called private prisons, have been vilified among progressives, even though their success in preparing inmates for productive engagement after their incarceration should be lauded by all social and political ideologies as part of the solution to social justice reform.
House Bill 40, which would eliminate all privately managed correctional facilities in New Mexico, has been making its way through the Legislature this session.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to end new contracts between the Department of Justice and contractor-run corrections facilities, which almost exclusively house foreign citizens convicted of federal crimes. Contractor-run correctional facilities perform a valuable service. They help control overcrowding in publicly run prisons while providing more and better rehabilitation opportunities. Typically, inmates are safer, as rates of assault were lower at contractor-run facilities than rates in publicly managed prisons.
Opened in 1998, the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs is a contractor-managed facility operated by GEO Group on a former World War II training base. As with all correctional facilities in the United States, it is managed in compliance with standards set by the American Correctional Association. The facility was most recently reaccredited in 2015 with a perfect score.
The facility provides inmates with training, work programming, recreation and educational opportunities. GEO’s in-custody and post-release “continuum of care” programming, developed by experts in criminal justice, substance abuse, psychology and other areas, keeps residents engaged for positive change and is critical for them to be successful once they serve their sentence and to avoid reoffending.
A study from the Rand Corporation found inmates who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than inmates who did not. And, often, state budget cuts hit prison programming first, while private contractors have flexibility and can invest their own resources to continue to do what is best for those in their care.
While visiting another GEO Group-managed facility in New Mexico, I met residents and staff who spoke highly of their experiences with the programming offered. Many residents have struggled with substance abuse challenges and require acute counseling and rehabilitation programming to help overcome their addiction. According to the Sage Neuroscience Center, all of the top 10 causes of death in New Mexico can be at least partially attributed to drug and alcohol abuse.
Program residents must complete the Residential Drug Abuse Program as part of their sentence. With new executive orders underway and the threat of HB 40, these programs could be shut down, potentially forcing these individuals into a jailhouse general population where they would not be able to get the services they need to survive and thrive after they serve their sentence. Revoking important substance abuse programs would destine many of these people to the damning cycle of ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, harming not only themselves but also their families and local communities.
In short, all contractor-operated facilities follow the same protocols policies and procedures as publicly run facilities under the New Mexico Corrections Department. Furthermore, the contractors have strict oversight of their operations that include on-site monitors, something the government facilities and the state lack.
Most importantly, as our nation shifts its corrections paradigm to highlight judicial reforms and inmate reentry, we should leverage all of the successful tools at our disposal to provide inmates with the care, attention and training they need inside facility walls — whether contractor run or publicly run — in order to be well-functioning members of society when they rejoin the public.
Continuing to wage war on contractor-run prisons doesn’t solve any problems or help inmates. If a program works, it shouldn’t matter who is managing it. By working together, we can rethink our prison system for the benefit of everyone.
KOAT recently did an excellent story detailing problems with the court-ordered agreement with the Department of Justice that the City of Albuquerque has been under for several years now.
The agreement has cost taxpayers $20 million to pay for training, equipment, staffing and a court-appointed monitor and, while it is hard to prove causation, violent crime in the City has increased by 53 percent.
The Rio Grande Foundation is a staunch advocate for free speech and the ability for speech by those who want to speak without having their name and personal information spread all over the Internet and media outlets.
It is almost a truism that New Mexico tends to be “high on all the bad lists and low on all the good ones.” On one major issue that is certainly not the case: policing for profit. Others know it as Civil Asset Forfeiture. The practice was banned in 2015 in New Mexico thanks to a bipartisan coalition that included the Rio Grande Foundation and the Institute for Justice(a national, libertarian, public interest law firm).
The group recently published its 3rd “Policing for Profit” report which ranks New Mexico as THE ONLY “A” rated state in the nation. Check out their video below which
In case you missed it, Albuquerque’s City Council recently punted on TWO big issues. RGF discussed both issues with KOB TV channel 4. You can watch the discussion relating to fines and even jail time for disobeying the public health order below.
And, RGF and the local business community has engaged in a the issue of mandatory paid sick leave. The Council (again) pushed the final vote to at least February 1, 2021.
Recently, New Mexico’s Educational Retirement Board (ERB) made the decision to divest itself from private prisons. Supporters of such a move have painted such companies in a very negative light with little justification.
Patrick Brenner, a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, submitted the following letter to the Albuquerque Journal. It was published on Monday, November 16, 2020.
I read the guest column, “ERB right to help dismantle unjust prison system,” published in the Albuquerque Journal on Nov. 8 and feel compelled to offer a response. The author is certainly entitled to her opinions about the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board’s decision to divest from private prisons, but she appears to be unclear on some of her facts.
The family separation mentioned in the column is a serious issue, but GEO does not manage any shelters or facilities housing unaccompanied minors, nor does it run any border patrol holding facilities along the U.S. southwest border.
What GEO does do is provide safe and humane residential care, including at the modern immigration Processing Centers it manages for the federal government that feature amenities such as artificial turf soccer fields, flat screen TVs in living areas, and indoor and outdoor recreation. These amenities are not usually available in government-operated facilities.
Unfortunately, the divestment campaign is based on an incorrect narrative and a mischaracterization of the role of GEO and other private contractors in this field who ultimately must answer to federal and state governments who are both their customers and regulate the terms of their contracts.
As the country begins to re-open and we assess what the future will look like post-pandemic, states will have to take a hard look at where to allocate funds knowing there will undoubtedly be budget concerns for the foreseeable future. While budget cuts are imminent, and in New Mexico they are needed, that does not mean indiscriminately eliminating programs or services that provide real benefit to New Mexico residents who need them most, especially when they ultimately save taxpayers money in the long run.
Before everything shut down, I toured the New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies near Albuquerque where I met with both the residents and the staff who run both of these facilities. Not only did the residents and staff provide glowing reviews of the programming and facilities, but also the Department of Corrections official who toured with us said that she fights for this type of programming across New Mexico and spoke about how effective it has been. These types of programs are on the chopping block. But it is these same programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration and are incredibly effective in treatment, saving taxpayer money, and better outcomes for participants of these programs.
The New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies are both managed by the GEO Group, a private contractor that manages detention and corrections facilities. While often vilified in the media, this private contractor has spent $10 million last year alone on programming around substance abuse counseling and cognitive behavioral treatment. Rehabilitation programming like this provides care, compassion, and effective tools to help people and reduce recidivism rates.
When you visit, the most surprising element is the sense of community and pride that has been fostered among the residents and staff where the more tenured members act as mentors for the newer residents and they truly pull for one another through this tough transition. The graduates of this program see this as a new opportunity for their lives and they are less likely to fall back into their old ways. Funding these types of programs will not only help residents overcome their addiction and other issues, but they will also help New Mexico’s bottom line.
This programming in New Mexico is new. But inmates who participated in this same programming in facilities in Florida had a recidivism rate 30 percent lower than their peers that did not have the same programing. Assuming this trend holds and recidivism is reduced by one third of the average in Florida after participation in these programs, this could be a major cost saving measure for the state. In 2019 alone, this would roughly provide $8 million in cost avoidance for Florida because they will no longer have to house these reformed inmates. There is every reason to believe the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs will see the same drop as Florida experienced and New Mexico could have the same experience with “cost avoidance”.
Corrections funding was already reduced during the recently-completed special session. When cutbacks occur in the 2021 session, programs like these should be among those preserved. The expertise of private sector providers can provide such services at a high quality and reasonable price, but the ultimate benefit is to the State and taxpayers of New Mexico who are desperately searching for ways to reduce crime and recidivism in their communities.
There is no “silver bullet” to solving crime. The COVID 19 epidemic will have unpredictable consequences for our society as well as crime rates and the criminal justice system at large for years to come. Even in times of tight budgets, New Mexico needs to continue investing programming, especially the kind that can be provided by private providers at a reasonable cost in our prisons and treatment facilities to ensure that we support inmates and residents. Short-sighted decisions now may have a negative impact on New Mexico for years to come.
Patrick Brenner is a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.
The Rio Grande Foundation is avowedly NOT an expert on the nitty-gritty of policing, BUT when asked about the general role of what a new police chief for New Mexico’s largest city should do, we definitely have a perspective. We shared that with KOB TV Channel 4.
1) Police MUST protect property including businesses downtown AND statues. Waiting and simply watching vandals destroy businesses and public property is a bad strategy and it undermines the very role of policing. This includes doing more to move homeless encampments out of parks and other public areas.
2) Politicization of policing is a problem. The Mayor should set goals and standards and let the professionals work to achieve them.
3) “Defunding” the police is simply not going to happen, nor should it. Reforms must be considered to both encourage proactive law enforcement AND respect for individual rights, but even substantial budget cuts are likely NOT helpful in high-crime Albuquerque.
The Rio Grande Foundation often comes under criticism from the left. But sometimes we come under fire from the right as well.
For starters we are designated as 501c3 “education and research” think tank. We don’t make endorsements and we don’t “carry water” for any political party or politician. Various media outlets have called us libertarian, conservative, and free market. We call ourselves “free market,” but we don’t waste our breath and time arguing the finer points of ideology because we believe that our work is self-explanatory.
Size of Government:New Mexico has long been a state driven by government. Data show that state/local spending is too high and that government regulations make doing business in New Mexico less attractive than doing business elsewhere. We’ve worked on this issue from all angles including: all forms of taxation, subsidies and corporate welfare (notably film subsidies), but also LEDA, JTIP, and “green” subsidies.
Regulation: Rio Grande Foundation has led the charge for “right to work” repeal of NM’s”Davis-Bacon” law, reform of government employee pensions, and against numerous “nanny state” regulations like plastic bag bans. We have also done extensive work against “green” programs from the Energy Transition Act to costly “green” building codes.
School Choice/Education Reform:Across the political spectrum New Mexicans agree that our K-12 system is failing. While politicians of both parties typically opt for some combination of more money, more time in school (pre-K), and some form of top-down accountability, the Rio Grande Foundation believes that parents and (to an extent students themselves) are better able to decide on the educational options that appeal to them. Charter schools are a good start and should be expanded, but more options are needed.
Additionally, the Rio Grande Foundation supports the US and New Mexico Constitutions, we stand up for free speech, gun rights, private property, and open government.
We don’t take on immigration, gay rights, or abortion issues.
So, there you have it. We at the Rio Grande Foundation have our plates very full, but we are making a difference in New Mexico every day. If that appeals to you, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!