NM not planning larger women’s prison

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration isn’t looking to expand the state women’s prison despite requesting proposals from private prison contractors for a facility with up to 850 beds, according to a Corrections Department official.

Department spokeswoman Alex Tomlin said the agency has no intention of building a new prison and isn’t seeking a larger women’s prison at this time.

The current facility in Grants has more than 600 beds for inmates and is operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel is expected to talk about the women’s prison Thursday in an appearance before the Legislative Finance Committee, which is examining agency budget issues.

The state paid the private prison company nearly $7 million for housing female inmates at the Grants prison during the first half of the current fiscal year, according to the department.

Tomlin said the agency issued a “request for proposals” – one step in the government’s procurement process – for a women’s prison because the state’s contract with the current private contractor expires June 30, 2015.

She said the 850-bed figure in the bid solicitation only reflects long-term projections of the female inmate population, and the department is looking at options for coping with inmate growth, including the use of halfway houses.

Bette Fleishman, executive director of New Mexico Women’s Justice Project, said it raises questions over the potential of a larger prison.

“The proposal does call for that many beds so it is a concern,” she said Thursday in an interview.

Fleishman said the state needs to consider how to reduce its female inmate population. Many inmates are drug offenders and have children, she said.

A report by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission last year projected that the female inmate population would reach about 680 next year and 807 in 2023. The number of female inmates has been increasing since 2010 while the male inmate population has remained relatively stable.

The increase in female inmates partly is because of longer sentences and the number of inmates who spend part of their parole in prison, according to the report.

Women account for about 10 percent of the state’s total prison population.

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