LOS LUNAS, N.M. — New Mexico correctional officers protested on Tuesday, saying that long hours, poor working conditions and low pay are contributing to an unsafe environment for prison staff.
The Valencia County News-Bulletin reports that staff represented by the New Mexico Council 18 picketed on Tuesday to raise public awareness.
“We’re out here to raise public awareness about public safety in our correctional institutions,” Rober Darnnel, AFSCME Council 18 chapter president of Local 3422, said. “The officers are getting completely burned out. They don’t have time for their families. They go home to sleep. They’re so exhausted at times that they can’t even do their job.”
Officers with the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility are working 72-hour weeks, leaving them little time to do anything else besides work.
Darnnel said that assaults are on the rise, which he blames on the longer work schedule and overtime. There’s also little incentive to remain on the job, since pay is low. An entry-level position pays about $13.60, $5 less than the national average.
“There is a tremendous turnover of officers because of the hours of work, which is attributable to the vacancies, which is attributable to the pay,” Connie Derr, executive director of New Mexico Council 18, said.
“We tried to handle it internally, talking to the Legislature, talking to the governor’s office, talking to the department, but now the citizens need to know this is what’s going on,” Derr said. “It’s time for citizens to start raising their voice and telling the governor, ‘Fix this crisis; get more officers in there; pay them a fair wage.’”
Other issues facing officers are old facilities in need of repair and a growing inmate population. New Mexico also suffers from a higher rate of violent felons when compared with the national average.
A public information officer for the DOC says that the department is aware of the issues, but overtime is necessary due to staff shortage. The PIO said they hoped the show ‘Behind Bars: Rookie Year’ on A&E will help educate the public and entice potential new recruits.
“We’re hoping the television show will bring in people who never thought about it before … they’ll see it on TV and say ‘I can do that.’ That was the main reason we did that show,” the PIO said.
The union has also posted an online petition in support of correctional officers, which received 200 signatures by midnight on Monday.