Judge approves penal reform settlement in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A judge has given final approval to a settlement ending a 40-year-old civil case that forced significant penal reforms in New Mexico.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa approved Friday an agreement that would end the Duran Consent Decree if the state complies with certain requirements, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Friday.

Those requirements include moving about 300 inmates from overcrowded prisons to those with more capacity to ensure each inmate has at least 50 square feet (4.7 square meters) of living space, down from the 60 square feet (5.6 square meters) required under the decree, the settlement said. The new agreement also includes requiring regular exterminator visits, prohibiting punishment for reporting sexual misconduct and banning facilities from operating at 120% of their capacity.

The decree was first signed in 1980 amid a civil rights lawsuit at the Penitentiary of New Mexico and imposed rules bringing prison conditions up to constitutional standards, such as pest control, medical care and court monitor oversight.

A new agreement replaced previous regulations in 1991 and vacated most of its provisions, except those that restricted overcrowding in the state’s prisons, officials said. Those limited regulations have quietly remained in effect since.

“I really hope the state is serious about obeying the court order this time,” Santa Fe attorney Mark Donatelli said. “But so far over the past year this administration has done little to correct the problems described in the agreement.”

Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero did not respond to a request seeking comment Friday.