July 26--The company that has operated a private prison in Estancia for nearly three decades has announced it will close the Torrance County Detention Facility and lay off more than 200 employees unless it can find 300 state or federal inmates to fill empty beds within the next 60 days, according to a statement issued Tuesday by county officials.
"This is a big issue for us," Torrance County Manager Belinda Garland said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It's going to affect Torrance County in a big way."
Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for CoreCivic -- formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America -- had this to say about the closure:
"The city of Estancia and the surrounding community have been a great partner to CoreCivic for the last 27 years. CoreCivic is grateful for the support the community has shown through the years and we're honored to have been a part of that community. Unfortunately, a declining detainee population in general has forced us to make difficult decisions in order to maximize utilization of our resources."
Garland said the prison's imminent closure will affect the county in a number of ways, not the least of which is that the county, which does not have its own jail, will have to find another place to house the 40 to 75 inmates it sends there each month.
The closure will cost the town of Estancia about $700,000 annually, according to the county's news release, and will result in about $300,000 worth of lost tax income for the county.
"And I'm concerned about the jobs," Garland said. "We are losing a large part of our workforce."
Estancia has about 1,500 residents, while Torrance County has a population of more than 15,000.
The facility houses about 580 prisoners, most of them federal inmates. Garland said she was told the prison needs about 700 beds filled to stay open.
The company told the county it has been holding fewer federal detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Garland said.
"We're reaching out to anybody that can help us," she said. "We hate to see this facility close."
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, both New Mexico Democrats, and other state officials have met with local officials and CoreCivic "to understand the details of the closure and any opportunities for diversion of this closure," according to the county's statement.
"A team of elected officials and community leaders have organized in an effort to assist CoreCivic in obtaining other possibilities for inmate contracts at the state and federal levels," the statement said.
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said in an email Tuesday, "Rep. Lujan Grisham is concerned about the possible loss of jobs in Torrance County. The Congresswoman will work with community leaders to explore all opportunities for preserving jobs."
Burns said operations at the prison are expected to end Sept. 23. "We are working with our partners at the facility with the goal of creating a seamless transition," he said.
Burns said the company also is assisting employees affected by the closure, and will be working to provide them with opportunities for transfer to other CoreCivic facilities and access to community employment resources.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.
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