ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Conjugal visits for prison inmates in New Mexico will soon be a thing of the past. The State Corrections Department says it’s doing away with the controversial practice in hopes that inmates use their incarceration time to better themselves.
The overnight visits have been in place for just over 30 years. They were originally a way to appease inmates reeling from the 1980 prison riot in Santa Fe.
But beginning May 1, the overnight family visits will be over.
Cabinet Secretary Gregg Marcantel says the Corrections Department has been looking at replacing the conjugal visits with new seminars and activities which would allow the inmates more time with their family. The programs are also designed to counsel inmates on things like raising their families once they’re released and common necessities like balancing a checkbook.
“They need to understand what it’s like to be a parent in today’s world,” said Marcantel. “What it’s like, what are the challenges to raising a child today when they get out and to the extent. We’re mirroring those realities with what life is going to look like when they get out. I think they’re going to be more likely to succeed when they come back to our neighborhoods.”
Only a small percentage of the 7,000 plus inmates qualify for conjugal visits. The visits only happened a few times a year and after an intense application process. Still, they’ve caused some controversy.
In a 2012 in a KRQE News 13 special assignment story, Dean Staley reported on how inmates like Michael Guzman, a convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence, fathered four kids through conjugal visits. Secretary Marcantel says that is something that happened under previous administrations, but played a role in the decision to eliminate the conjugal visits.
“It just makes good sense that in my position that we have the courage to do away with the things that aren’t working and replace them with things that appear that could work better,” adds Marcantel.
Access to the new family day seminars for inmates will be based on incarceration levels. Corrections officials also hope that will give higher level inmates an incentive to accumulate good time and qualify for the one-on-one interaction with family. New Mexico was one of four states including California, New York, and Washington which allowed conjugal visits.