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NM Prisoners Refuse to Break Rocks

New Mexico state corrections chief Rob Perry announced a proposal in June 1997 to allow disciplinary segregation prisoners to reduce their seg time if they agree to break rocks with sledgehammers. The proposal may have had more to do with publicity than punishment. The rock-breaking plan was duly reported by the local press and picked up by the AP wire.

But 56 Santa Fe Penitentiary disciplinary seg prisoners responded to Perry's proposal with a signed statement of their own, which they managed to leak to the press. The 56 seg prisoners say they have no intention of breaking rocks.

"We have been given disciplinary segregation and we will serve it with dignity and respect without having to break rocks," the prisoners' statement reads.

A chagrined Perry blamed the statement and a lack of volunteers for the rock pile on intimidation by gangs. He then announced a plan to have disciplinary sea prisoners join a work gang already in place -- prisoners who dig ditches and level areas of the prison yard and pull weeds.

Santa Fe attorney Mark Donatelli, who frequently represents New Mexico prisoners, said Perry's new proposal "contradicts the secretary's earlier statements that [rock-breaking] would be voluntary." Perry responded that "rock-breaking is voluntary. Labor isn't."

The seg prisoners' signed statement said their disciplinary cases had already been decided, sanctions imposed, "and we have been sentenced to serve our time. However, we were NOT sentenced to hard labor."

Donatelli said he may challenge the secretary's actions in court if he finds that Perry has added punishment to that already in place.

Rocky Mountain News

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