Sex crimes may feel especially heinous, but by themselves, sexual offenses do not draw a death penalty.
At least, not officially – certainly not legally. But effectively? Official policies of New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her Department of Corrections have effectively singled out sex offenders for exposure to conditions that enhance the risk of death from Covid-19.
New Mexico has 11 prisons. Several of them have recorded cases of Covid-19, very few cases, but the state wing of the Otero County Corrections Facility has recorded more than 430.
All of the infected prisoners are sex offenders. Otero County is where sex offenders are sent in New Mexico.
Everything about Otero County – from the prisoner population to the living conditions make it high-risk for contagion – but as the virus spread across the state, even after it penetrated the federal prison that is just a different wing, sex offenders were still being moved into the state facility.
And our guest today, Albuquerque-based investigative reporter Jeff Proctor revealed in New Mexico in Depth, a separate unit of 39 non-sex offenders was hustled out of Otero and shipped to the penitentiary in Santa Fe.
Lucky them. They got out safe and sound, leaving a madhouse of contagion behind them. Three madhouses, actually, with the ICE detention center for intercepted border crossers hit with close to 150 cases, and the federal wing of the main prison 275 or more, so that their combined caseload almost matched that of the state’s sex offender prison.
Jeff Proctor, congratulations on a series of journalistic coups over the past few week…
Let’s start by putting this story in context… the State of New Mexico has gotten great reviews for flattening the curve of Covid-19 cases since March… despite a devastating outbreak on the Navajo reservation… and a shocking death toll among residents of nursing homes… Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is credited with fast, decisive action to encourage masking, keeping social distance, and offer coronavirus testing. But, as you started pointing out back in early May – not in prisons. Not much interest in even testing state prisoners then? Even though other states had already recorded large-scale outbreaks in prisons.
Jeff Proctor is an investigative reporter based in Albuquerque, NM. He works for the news website NM in Depth (nmindepth.com) and is a Contributing Editor at the Santa Fe Reporter. His work has appeared in the New York Times and on the NPR investigative news magazine Reveal.