With “most official avenues exhausted,” Torrance County Commissioner Javier Sanchez came before Estancia’s town board Tuesday night to urge action to save the economy of the tiny town.
About five weeks ago, CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corp. of America, or CCA, announced that it would be closing its Estancia prison facility because it is not profitable. CoreCivic representatives pointed to a decline in the number of arrests by federal marshals and immigration police over the past eight years, and said it had been running the prison in Estancia at a loss for four years.
Closure of the facility will have wide-ranging ramifications for Estancia and Torrance County—along with ripple effects in the Estancia Valley that will come with the loss of some 200 jobs which pay well for the area. That will likely include fewer students in schools with already shrinking populations and the reduced funding that will bring.
Some families have already made plans to move away from the area, while others are looking for ways to keep their households afloat with the loss of their jobs.
For Torrance County, closure will mean that the cost of law enforcement will increase dramatically. Where to date, prisoners could be transported easily to a cell, closure of the prison means that those who get arrested will need to be transported to Grants.
That transport takes about seven hours round trip, including booking the prisoners in, effectively taking a deputy off the streets for nearly a full shift. Sheriff Heath White has said he expects his department’s costs to more than quadruple.
A group, made up of representatives from the county, the town of Estancia, and beyond, tried to get a meeting with Gov. Susana Martinez, who did not meet with them personally.
The group wants to propose that the state move 200 prisoners to the Estancia facility, with the county paying for half of the tab. Their thinking is that would allow the facility to stay open, but the state was not receptive. That’s according to Sanchez, who spoke to Estancia’s trustees Tuesday in hopes of getting support in galvanizing public action.
Sanchez described a “gauntlet of meetings” with the state corrections department and governor’s office as “awkward” and “distasteful,” and said there is no ongoing communication and no will to act on behalf of the state.
“No one knows about our plight but us,” Sanchez said. “We perceive a level of neglect, and that is just unacceptable. We are going to be impacted—and dreadfully.”
Town trustee Manuel Romero hammered home the point that he thinks the town and county should write a letter to find out if the state houses any prisoners out of state, and make a pitch for those inmates to be moved to Estancia if so. “It’s imperative we have something in writing,” he repeated.
Mayor Sylvia Chavez voiced concern about moving prisoners from one facility to another, saying it would only hurt another community in the same way Estancia is being hurt now. “I don’t want to do to another community what’s been done to us.”
Money from the prison makes up more than 60 percent of Estancia’s town budget, and it’s not clear yet what budget cuts would have to be made to accommodate the loss in revenue.
Sanchez got the support he asked for from the town board. A public meeting will be held Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m., most likely at the Torrance County Commission building, to try and rally people to make a trip to Santa Fe to plead the community’s case to the governor.
Responding to a concern from Chavez, Sanchez said, “Whether we anger Santa Fe or not is irrelevant. … We don’t serve Santa Fe.”
Sanchez said he hopes public outcry will “add some bite” to the town and the county’s position. “We’re facing catastrophe. … They haven’t been getting the message.”
Board trustee Cory Dryden agreed: “The loss of this annual revenue is in the category of catastrophic, not inconvenient,” he said, noting that “people are moving.”
To find out more about the meeting, contact the town of Estancia at 505-384-2709 or Sanchez at 505-400-3192.