The New Mexico Corrections Department announced this afternoon that a statewide lockdown at its 11 prisons had been lifted, a week after it was initially announced via Facebook on August 20.
Corrections spokesperson SU Mahesh refused to tell SFR why the statewide lockdown was enacted. In response to SFR's emailed question, Mahesh said it was a "standard security measure" and was not prompted by anything in particular.
Mahesh again stated it was a standard security measure when SFR asked for clarification. After a third inquiry, Mahesh did not respond. But the department's Facebook page was updated to say the lockdown had ended.
The state declared the lockdown right before August 21, the day inmates choosing to participate in a nationwide prison strike were set to begin protesting low-to-zero wages for their labor while incarcerated, as well as inhumane conditions, systemic racism and institutional barriers to redress.
The group Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, composed of incarcerated people in South Carolina who are coordinating direct actions and encouraging inmates to engage in non-violent protests, including hunger strikes and a refusal to show up to work, released a set of demands in April outlining prisoners' grievances.
Corrections officials tell SFR that the lockdown was not prompted by concerns of inmates protesting. Prison officials in other states as well as federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have similarly denied any protest or strike activity, according to the New York Times.
Selinda Guerrero, an organizer with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, which has helped coordinate protests inside and outside prisons, says she's unaware of any protests currently taking place in New Mexico's prisons.
However, Guerrero says, about 300 inmates in three separate housing units at the privately-operated Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs refused to return to their cells earlier this month, in protest of correctional staff limiting familial visits and harassing visitors. On Twitter, IWOC characterized this action as part of the nationwide strike.
The DOC confirmed that inmates in multiple housing units at the Lea County prison refused to return to their cells after a "disturbance," though officials said the incident happened on August 8.
Guerrero, who corresponds with inmates at several state prisons as well as their family members, believes the timing of the lockdown the day before the national strike wasn't a coincidence. She says prison officials at Lea also punished inmates as a group earlier this year by limiting their access to toilet paper and showers.
"We included the Hobbs facility [as a prison where inmates are participating in the nationwide strike] because their uprising was concerning the same things, including conditions of confinement [and] being denied basic human rights," Guerrero says.
In June, SFR explored inmate labor in New Mexico in a cover story.
The period of inmates' protests is supposed to last until September 9, in commemoration of the beginning of the 1971 prison uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. The date August 21 marks the killing of George Jackson, "a member of the Black Panther Party [and] a leading voice and theorist in the 1970s prison movement," by prison guards, according to Raven Rakia in The Nation.
This story has been updated with additional context.