New Mexico official sets private prison transfer timeline

New Mexico
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A plan to transfer operations at a New Mexico lockup from a private company to the state is expected to begin next month, though final details and negotiations remain underway, the state’s top prison official told lawmakers.

Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero testified this week during a legislative hearing that officials have set Aug. 3 as the day when they and the GEO Group will begin the three-month process of transferring the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton to state management.

The prison is owned by the town of Clayton, which has an agreement to receive payment from the state to house the inmates. The city pays the GEO Group to manage the medium-security facility.

Tafoya Lucero told lawmakers in Santa Fe at the start of three days of hearings that ended Wednesday that the state is in negotiations to own the facility. The comment came in response to questions from Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, amid concerns that the current contract the state has with Clayton officials could potentially allow them to lease beds the state does not use to federal agencies and others.

“I just think if the state is going to be involved in running that facility, we should — quote, unquote — own it,” said Wirth, who is the Senate Majority Leader.

Clayton City Manager Ferron Lucero was out of town and not available for comment on negotiations, an assistant said. The city has a population of about 3,000 people, where census data show the per capita income is about $21,000 per year.

A corrections officer working full time for the GEO Group in Clayton was paid about $15 per hour and would have made about $31,000 in the past year, not including compensation for overtime, according to a company document. Corrections officer at state-run prisons make more than $17 per hour.

A spokesman for the Florida-based GEO Group said the company made the decision to end its contract for the prison because of difficulties recruiting and retaining workers.

The corrections secretary also said GEO Group has struggled to maintain staffing numbers at the prison.

The GEO Group currently operates three of New Mexico’s 11 prisons, and plans to continue managing the other two.

In its decision to leave Clayton, the company said it had not received increased compensation adjusted for inflation, and that resulted in minimal wage changes for prison staff, according to the company.

The corporations CoreCivic and Management & Training Corporation also each operate a prison.

GEO Group’s 2018 annual report shows $2.3 billion in total revenue, with about 2% coming from the state of New Mexico.

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