In New Mexico, private prisons supplements federal obligations with county contracts

A close look at Torrance County Detention Facility

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

Estancia, New Mexico — population 1,655 as of 2010 — is the site of a curious slice of America’s prison population. Torrance County Detention Facility, operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), draws its pool from a handful of federal and state contracts, including the U.S. Marshals (USMS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When CCA first opened the prison in Estancia, home of the last hanging in New Mexico, the Detention Facility was responsible for just under 300 offenders. Now it clocks in at over 900 inmates, over half the town’s population.

The oldest area contract for the prison is between CCA and Torrance County itself. The original agreement went into effect in 1990, ran for twenty years, and has since been extended to be automatically renewed each year. From the documents, it’s not clear how many Torrance County inmates are housed on a regular basis; the Bernalillo County contract allows for roughly 50 inmates from that jurisdiction based on space available after the needs of the USMS.

This gives some perspective to the Mountain View telegraph article which reported last May that three medical bills for the inmates at Torrance County Detention Center had set the County back $770,000. At the 2010 starting rate of $54 per male inmate, that’s about the equivalent of housing 40 inmates for a year.

The Bernalillo County contract is meant to offer overflow housing for Metropolitan Detention Center. The documents we obtained from the County include CCA’s response to the initial Request For Proposal, in which they aim to make the contract process as straightforward as possible, providing a sample contract for possible use.

As it turns out, this sample contract is adopted or adapted in some form by all of the counties contracting with Torrance County Detention Facility; it’s the source of a paragraph MuckRock recently reported on in Florida, which limits which costly conditions would cause CCA to return an inmate.

Relatedly, one of the amendments proposed by CCA allows for the immediate removal of any inmate.

This wording is a softer version, however, of the mandatory minimum requirement language provided by the County, which calls into question the level of stringency with which government agencies are entering into these agreements.

Primarily, however, Torrance County Detention Facility is a federal prison. MuckRock hasn’t received a contract from USMS, even though the request was filed on January 5, 2015. According to the FOIA officer, it will still be “several months.”

However, every other prison contract request filed with USMS has already been filled, which seems to indicate the importance of the FOIA officer assigned to the request.

Once MuckRock receives the federal contracts, it will be easier to gauge the ways the same prison is sold to different agencies. Until then, let us know if you have any comments, questions, or tips at info@muckrock.com and consider this gap between dollar signs.


Image via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0