When CoreCivic, previously known as CCA, or Corrections Corp. of America, announced that in 60 days it would be closing its Estancia facility at a cost of more than 200 jobs, elected leadership in the area leapt to action.
It remains to be seen whether their efforts to keep the facility open will be successful or not. There are many factors, including a steep decline nationwide in arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, that have led to empty prisons around the country. CoreCivic itself has seven empty facilities around the country. Federal prisoners bring to the company nearly twice the amount of state or county prisoners, and the majority of those housed at CCA, with a capacity of about 900 beds, have been federal inmates.
There is a larger debate about whether prisons should be privatized at all, because the profit imperative can conflict with the public good, as it arguably does in this case. If the facility closes, Torrance County will take a huge financial hit, as it would then be in a position of having to drive at least an hour—and potentially 3 or more hours one way—to get a single inmate to the jail. In addition to the financial burden, those long trips would each take a deputy off the streets for the duration.
The town of Estancia also stands to lose more than half of its total budget, and possibly its police force.
The impact to the surrounding communities will ripple out for years to come, and would likely mean more people moving from the area, which in turn would mean further declines in student populations—and thus funding—in our already shrinking school systems. The Estancia school district’s early estimate is that it might lose five jobs.
All of these factors and more will be brought to the attention of Gov. Susana Martinez if the group of mayors and other elected officials are successful. What that could mean in terms of help is still unknown, as the state is facing its own budgetary woes.
We applaud the quick and decisive action by the group, who are working diligently to keep those jobs in Estancia. Likewise, we applaud Torrance County Sheriff Heath White, whose proactive approach to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” is practical and demonstrates clear-thinking leadership.
In addition to local elected officials, state representatives Sen. Liz Stefanics, Rep. Matthew McQueen and Rep. Tomas Salazar have pledged to help, as have the congressional offices of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The local group plans to approach New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation.
As of the Monday meeting of this core group of mayors and other elected officials, there were 53 days on the clock. The urgency of the situation is keenly felt by the elected leadership of the Estancia Valley, and for that the community should be grateful.