An Albuquerque attorney has filed a tort claim notice on behalf of six state prisoners, claiming the Corrections Department isn’t taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough and isn’t providing inmates at the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants the supplies, space or information they need to keep themselves safe.

“This gross indifference to the health and safety of the inmates is creating a prison health crisis with no indication at all that this is being addressed in accordance with the advice of the medical and scientific community,” attorney Parrish Collins wrote in the notice he sent Tuesday to the Corrections Department, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero.

A tort claim notice puts government agencies on notice that someone believes they have reason to sue for damages and preserves the person’s right to sue for two years.

Inmates are given just one small bar of soap per week, according to the notice, which isn’t enough to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for frequent hand-washing. In addition, Collins wrote inmates are given only watered-down cleaning solution and one towel to clean their living quarters.

Collins also noted a March 20 uprising at the Grants facility, claiming inmates are suffering after having breathed in smoke cause by fires lit during the disturbance and the tear gas that was used to quell it.

Many of the inmates are coughing and spitting mucous into the same sinks where they must wash their hands, according to the claim.

Closely spaced bunk beds in dormitories that hold 30 to 60 inmates make it nearly impossible to observe social distancing, the claim says, or even avoid physical contact. Collins also wrote prisoners are in close contact during meals.



Spokesmen for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Corrections Department said in emails the facilities are taking pains to guard against the introduction of the virus, including suspending contact visits, medically screening staff at every shift change and providing inmates with information about hygienic practices that safeguard their health.

Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said in an email each inmate’s weekly package includes soap, toilet paper, shampoo and “supply levels are where they need to be in regards to hygienic supplies for inmates.”

“As far as grouping of inmates for meals and other activities, inmate schedules have not changed,” Harrison wrote. “Recreation, meals, and education participation is done in groups of inmates that are already housed together. Intermixing housing units was not practice before the threat of COVID-19, and that remains consistent. Inmate activities are done in the same groups that they were before.”

James Fitzpatrick, an inmate who regularly calls The New Mexican to discuss conditions inside the Grants prison, said officials there have posted signs instructing inmates to avoid touching their face, to catch their coughs and sneezes in tissues, and to “regularly clean household surfaces,” but officials have not provided inmates any hand sanitizer, additional soap or cleaning supplies.

He said some staff are wearing face masks, while others have bandannas tied over their faces.

But he added: “It’s ridiculous. There is nothing being done here, nothing, nada, and when the pandemic hits this place … you’ll have 700 people on their backs.”

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