ESTANCIA, N.M. (KRQE) – In less than two weeks, Estancia’s private prison is expected to close its doors for good, which means a major hit to the community. Emotions ran high Monday night at a meeting and they didn’t concern the prison closure.
The Torrance County Detention Center is located in Estancia. The private facility has been one of the town’s biggest employers for the last 27 years. It’s run by a corporation called CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.
“The effect is drastic,” County Commissioner Javier Sanchez said.
According to Sanchez, the prison currently houses just over 400 inmates, and the majority of those detainees are federal inmates. Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said the facility also houses inmates for Guadalupe and Torrance County Sheriff Departments.
According to the county, the facility can house up to 900 inmates. CoreCivic said the prison needs around 700 inmates to stay open.
Monday night, Sanchez and Estancia’s Mayor Sylvia Chavez held a meeting, the sheriff and a few others deemed “illegal.”
Sanchez addressed the crowd of around 40 people and said the point of the meeting was to discuss a letter he plans to present to the commission on Wednesday.
The letter is addressed to state officials and in part states, “Torrance County requests the prompt transfer of up to 235 federal inmates to bring the total population to a number of 700.”
It’s that letter and discussions, with the absence of two county commissioners, of plans to move forward that had Sheriff White and others calling the meeting “illegal.”
“The conversation (with the state) has ended so how can we carry this forward, because it’s our community that’s going to suffer,” Sanchez said.
While Sheriff White agrees the closure would be devastating, he disagreed with how Sanchez handled the meeting.
“We did go to the governor’s office with a plan and we spent multiple hours there with them. We’re not being thrown out, to the side, by the state,” he said. “A lot of people have put a lot of work into this. I want to make sure we’re represented correctly.”
Sheriff White also called Sanchez’s plan to “promptly transfer inmates” misleading. He said the process is a lot more difficult than that.
“We can’t just bring in inmates from other facilities,” Sheriff White said. “There are procurement laws. There are RFP’s. You can’t violate these, that’s when you get into dirty government.”
Sheriff White wouldn’t go into detail about the response from the state. He said he’d wait until the next “official” county commission meeting.
The Torrance County Sheriff’s Office would be greatly affected by this, as deputies would be forced to drive three hours to Cibola County to house their inmates if the prison were to close.
Mayor Chavez announced the town could also face a 60 percent drop in revenue.
Sheriff White said the county sent a request asking CoreCivic for a 30-day extension, but there is no word on if that has been granted.