Private prisons are not the way forward for New Mexico

Las Cruces Sun News | Uriel Rosales

The need for quality jobs in New Mexico is a top priority for families across the state. Lack of sustainable economic development in rural areas has forced many in our communities to take whatever jobs are available. For far too long our state has invested in volatile economic models, driving our people to take jobs that only profit from the pollution of our land, our air, our water, and more recently the detention and separation of families and children seeking a better life — the private immigrant detention industry.

There is no question that much of this issue has been driven by the disastrous mismanagement our state has suffered by previous administrations, which has resulted in New Mexico ranking last in almost everything nationally. For example, according to the 2018 U.S. News “Best States Rankings,” New Mexico comes in at No. 46 nationwide — with Alabama and Louisiana taking the bottom two rankings.

When it comes to our state’s child well-being levels we rank dead last once again; and it doesn’t take much but looking around to see our state is in dire need of funding for our schools in an equitable way that ensures success for our youngest ones. Second, our economy is ranked No. 47 in the country, along with opportunity for social mobility ranked at No. 48. Much of this destabilization has laid the ground for privately owned prisons to position themselves as “economic boosters” and “job creators” in rural New Mexico.

Unfortunately, New Mexico currently ranks No. 1 in use of for-profit, private prisons

Our state’s reliance on these institutions has increased rapidly in the last 20 years, stimulating the increased incarceration of people of color statewide. Our incarceration rates as a state are higher than the national average, with 1 in every 100 people in our state being incarcerated according to an analysis by Prison Policy Initiative.

Another study by the Prison Policy Initiative found a definite correlation between poverty levels and increased incarceration rates, leading to “the American prison system bursting at the seams with people who have been shut out of the economy and who had neither a quality education nor access to good jobs.” 

Private prison corporations like CoreCivic, GEO Group, and MTC continue to paint their companies as necessary for our state to drive an economic stimulus of rural communities and meet the demands for incarceration. 

Yet, looking back at the fact education and jobs are necessary to drop incarceration rates and strengthen our economy and social mobility, it makes sense to divest from these companies — who ultimately lobby to put more people in jail — and instead our state must invest in our communities’ education and economic development opportunities.

With over 300 days of sunlight in our state, New Mexico has an opportunity to capitalize from our most abundant clean energy sources. We could become leaders alongside Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Texas in the creation of solar and wind jobs — prioritizing the ability of our families to prosper, while diversifying our economy with good-paying jobs with benefits that offer potential for long-term advancement.

Private for-profit prisons have already had their way with our economy and the people of our state and it was detrimental to all. Now is the time to divest from this inhumane industry that only offers dead-end jobs, kill communities, and holds our economy hostage.

Investing in the renewable energy economy is the right path to thriving communities in New Mexico. And it will be built on our strengths: wind, solar and hardworking rural families.

Uriel Rosales is a resident of Otero County and a community organizing fellow with the NM Dream Team.

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