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NM Gets Tougher on Private Prisons
By hispanicbusiness.com - Trip Jennings
Published: 03/02/2012

New Mexico's corrections agency has slapped Florida-based GEO Group Inc. with nearly $300,000 in penalties on top of $1.1 million in fines assessed last year for the company's continued failure to adequately staff a prison in Hobbs.

In addition, $11,800 in fines were assessed this week against New Mexico's second-private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America.

Tennessee-based CCA, which operates a women's prison in Grants for New Mexico, was penalized for inadequate staffing there and for its failure to release 15 female inmates on time. Some of the inmates were released more than 30 days past their release date, state documents show.

The penalties against the companies point to a more aggressive tone that Gov. Susana Martinez's administration has struck with the for-profit companies than her predecessor, Gov. Bill Richardson.

For years, GEO and Corrections Corporations of America have managed some portion of New Mexico's prisons. At one point, the two companies operated six facilities. Now, their portfolio is down to four.

But until recently, the two companies could violate their contract with New Mexico without worrying about penalties in certain cases.

That leniency appears to have disappeared under the Martinez administration.

In November 2011, GEO agreed to pay $1.1 million in penalties for inadequately staffing the Lea County Correctional Facility for the months of January through October 2011. It was the first fine leveled in years -- if ever -- against GEO for inadequate staffing, state officials said. Then, in December and January, the state's Corrections Department hit GEO with additional penalties of $158,529.28 and $139,620.71 for November and December, respectively, according to Shannon McReynolds, inspector general at the New Mexico Department of Corrections.

The November and December fines against GEO resulted from the company's failure to staff enough correctional officers and other mandatory positions at the Hobbs prison. Also, several noncustody posts had been vacant for more than 60 days, including those that deal with mental health and substance abuse problems as well as for counselors, documents show.

A spokesman for GEO did not respond to an email request for comment on the penalties.

Meanwhile, a CCA spokesman directed questions to the state Department of Corrections when asked about the $11,800 penalty that went out this week against his company.

"We are still working with our government partner to evaluate and analyze the issue and believe any questions at this stage are more appropriately directed to the Department," CCA spokesman Steve Owen wrote in an email Tuesday. "We are working closely with our government partner to ensure that we conform with their requirements."

The $11,800 penalty resulted, in part, from CCA not having enough correctional officers in January at the Grants women's prison, McReynolds said. But the larger part of the $11,800 fine -- $7,964.46 -- resulted from the failure of prison staff to release 15 female inmates on time. State documents show 13 of those 15 inmates were let out more than 30 days past their release date.

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