SANTA FE – Today in the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas’ (D-Albuquerque) House Bill 175 passed by a 7-6 vote. HB 175 bans the use of isolated confinement for pregnant women and minors in New Mexico prisons and jails. It also sets a 48-hour maximum for solitary confinement of inmates with severe mentally illness.
“Isolated confinement is overused and misused in our great state,” Rep. Maestas said. “It is detrimental to public safety. If you put a human being in prolonged isolated confinement, that human will never, ever be the same. That makes us all less safe once that person is back in our community.”
House Bill 175 introduces new reporting requirements for correctional facilities so that county commissions will be kept apprised of the number of inmates held in isolated confinement, as well as the reasons for that confinement. The bill also requires correctional facilities to report all monetary settlements paid out to inmates and former inmates as a result of lawsuits filed against the facility or its employees.
“There is a growing body of literature about the disturbing use and effect of isolated confinement on people with mental illness. This bill will put an end to this inhumane and outdated practice in New Mexico,” said Rep. Maestas. “In addition to violating human rights, it’s wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.”
Inmates in isolated confinement spend up to 23 hours a day alone in windowless cells. Isolated confinement can have devastating psychological effects on inmates; studies indicate that it can exacerbate mental illness, trigger new mental disorders, and increase suicide rates.
In addition to the psychological costs, isolated confinement leads to public safety and fiscal problems. The bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s prisons found that acts of violence in prisons often increase with the use of isolated confinement. It also costs almost three times as much to house an inmate in isolation as opposed to the general prison population. In 2016, President Barack Obama banned isolated confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons.
In New Mexico, the use of isolated confinement has provoked expensive lawsuits. In 2013, Doña Ana County paid more than $15 million to a man who spent 22 months in isolated confinement after being arrested for driving under the influence, which carries a 90 day maximum penalty.
House Bill 175 will be heard next on the House floor.