In 1977, inmates of the Penitentiary of New Mexico, represented by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in the District of New Mexico against the governor of New Mexico and officials of the New Mexico Department of Corrections. In the First Amended Complaint, plaintiffs alleged that "the totality of the overcrowding and other conditions at PNM fall beneath standards of human decency, inflict needless suffering on prisoners and create an environment which threatens prisoners' mental and physical well-being, and results in the physical and mental deterioration and debilitation of the persons confined therein which is both unnecessary and penologically unjustifiable."
In 1979, the parties reached a settlement agreement–sometimes known as the Duran Consent Decree–which was adopted by the court. The original plaintiff, Dwight Duran
, was released and began a life as an advocate for prisoners. In February 1980, 12 days after Duran was released, a massive prison riot broke out and the decree was modified. The modified decree focused on fourteen issues: correspondence, attorney visitation, food services, legal access, visitation, classification, living conditions, inmate activity, medical care, mental health care, staffing and training, administrative segregation, inmate discipline, and pre-hearing detention/disciplinary segregation. As part of the decree a special master was required to file a report every six months evaluating defendants' compliance.
There was periodic litigation throughout the 1980s regarding the implementation of the consent order. In 1986, plaintiffs successfully sought a preliminary injunction to halt prison staff layoffs with respect to medical care, mental health care and security. Duran v. Anaya, 642 F. Supp. 510 (D. N.M. 1986).
In 1988, prison officials moved to vacate portions of the consent decree. The District Court (Judge Juan G. Burciaga) denied the motion to vacate, holding that by presenting to the court an agreed remedial order, state officials waived their rights to restraint of comity in selection of equitable remedies. Duran v. Carruthers, 678 F. Supp. 839 (D. N.M. 1988). Defendants appealed. The Tenth Circuit (Judge McWilliams) affirmed the lower court decision, holding that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the consent decree, even if some of the relief could not have been granted by the court under the Eleventh Amendment had the case gone to trial. Duran v. Carruthers, 885 F.2d 1485 (10th Cir. 1989).
Following renewed litigation, the parties agreed to a new settlement agreement in June 1991. The settlement agreement established new restrictions on overcrowding and modified provisions of the existing injunctive decree. The settlement agreement also established a timetable for monitoring and reporting by a special master. The monitoring process continued through the mid-1990's with Vincent M. Nathan and W. David Arnold acting as special master.
In December 1994, the plaintiffs sought contempt sanctions and further remedial orders; the parties settled the enforcement dispute in March 1995, with additional stipulated relief. But in January 1996, New Mexico began to move prisoners to Texas. The plaintiffs argued that this violated the prior agreements, and the Court granted a temporary restraining order enjoining the transfer. In March of that year, the parties agreed that the transfer of 350 medium security prisoners could go forward if the Texas facilities satisfied certain minimal standards, set out in the stipulation. (The parties amended the agreement in August 1997.)
During late 1996 or early 1997, Governor Gary Johnson vetoed a bill that would have set up a commission to oversee prison releases to deal with overcrowding at state prisons. At that point, the plaintiffs sought a population cap for the New Mexico Penitentiary, and Chief Judge Conway agreed to convene a three-judge district court to consider the request, pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (which limits such orders to narrow circumstances and requires they be considered by a specially convened three-judge panel). The panel met in March 1997, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for September 1997. With that as the deadline, the parties reached an interim settlement, designed to reduce population by measures including increased use of diversion by drug courts and allowing inmates to regain lost good time under certain circumstances. The agreement was filed in August 1997; it put off any additional hearing on overcrowding for a few months. It seems that even though the agreement included population caps, the state agreed not to challenge them until April 1998.
Later in 1997, the parties agreed to a termination plan which provided "definitive, specific, and measurable tasks to be accomplished in order to achieve substantial compliance." The termination plan required check out audits by a special monitor and self-monitoring in all areas except for medical care. The termination plan also established December 1998 as a deadline for substantial compliance with the agreement. Following a finding of substantial compliance all orders were to be vacated.
The docket for this case only contains two entries from 1998 and 1999 regarding objections by defendants to a final report on mental health.
On December 9, 2015, an inmate not listed in the original action filed a motion for an emergency injunction, contempt, and a request for counsel. The case was then reassigned to District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales and Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth as the trial and pretrial judges. A few days later the case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. On February 19, 2016, Judge Khalsa denied the plaintiff's motion for counsel and mailed a copy of the Court's "Guide for Pro Se Litigants." Three days later the motion was refiled by the original class action plaintiffs. The parties had settlement conferences before Chief Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen on May 27, 2016 and August 5, 2016 to resolve the issues raised in the plaintiffs' motion for emergency relief. At the second conference they reached an agreement. The defendants agreed that any time they needed to put two occupants in a single cell, they would notify the court and plaintiffs' counsel 10 days before. They agreed to meet and confer in order to take good faith efforts to avoid "double-celling" inmates. The defendants also agreed to review and restore the good-time credits (credits inmates receive for good behavior) inmates lost for actions committed as a result of being doubled up in a single-cell; the plaintiffs' counsel would review these determinations. The court retained jurisdiction over the interpretation and enforcement of this settlement agreement.
On October 31, 2016, another inmate filed a motion for emergency relief and as of November 6, 2016, this matter is still pending.Kristen Sagar - 08/07/2007
Abigail DeHart - 11/06/2016