Jun. 29--State officials on Friday said it's unlikely the Department of Corrections will contract with another private company to run a prison in Clayton, a facility struggling to maintain adequate staffing.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the GEO Group's decision Thursday to pull out of its contract to operate the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility was no surprise to state officials.
"We've been working on it and planning it," Stelnicki said in an email. "The only reason it wasn't announced sooner by us was that we had to wait for them to notify their employees."
Stelnicki said the state wants to run the medium-security prison, which holds 500 inmates. "That's why this is happening," he said.
GEO Group said it was "no longer feasible to recruit and retain personnel in the region," without compensation increases.
Based in Boca Raton, Fla., the company said it will continue to operate prisons in Guadalupe and Lea counties, which it owns outright. A spokesman said that without funding to increase wages, the company was losing staff members to better-paying state-operated prisons in both New Mexico and Texas.
The state intends to hold a hiring event in mid-July in hopes of boosting staff levels for the Clayton prison. The facility is operating with a vacancy rate of about 41 percent, according to data provided by the governor's office.
Asked how the Department of Corrections -- which already struggles with a system-wide 25 percent vacancy rate for correctional officers that spikes as high as 45 percent in some facilities -- intends to succeed where the private prison operator failed, Stelnicki said the state pays better and can also offer employees enrollment in the state's retirement plan, which the private contact couldn't do.
He added that as a public entity, the state doesn't have to worry about trying to turn a profit for private investors.
Alisha Tafoya-Lucero, recently named to head the Corrections Department, did not respond to a request for comment.
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