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Video-Visits Out in New Mexico Prisons

After two years, the draconian practice of video-only visitation was abolished in New Mexico prisons. "I believe we can achieve the same security goals with non-contact visits," said newly installed Corrections Secretary Joe Williams. "Keeping an inmate's family ties are important," he added. Williams went on to describe the video only visits as the "most draconian policy" implemented by his predecessor Rob Perry.

Williams' actions are applauded by prison activists across the state. Tilda Sosaya is a prison-rights activist who served on a Corrections Department transition team with Williams. The team studied various aspects of prison life prior to the swearing in of Govenor Bill Richardson on January 1, 2003, Sosaya also has a son in the maximum-security North Facility of the prison.

"I thought (Williams) would probably do this, but I didn't know he'd do it so soon," said Sosaya. "I don't think Joe Williams could have taken any other measure that would have had such a widespread affect. It's the first time I've seen my son face to face in two years."

Under the insensitive policy of Perry, families of certain prisoners would only be allowed to visit using a small TV Monitor. Sosaya describes it like this.

"Locked into a dank, small cubicle with no windows and barely enough room for two people, family members would view a fuzzy image of a shackled and cuffed prisoner in leg irons and belly chains on a 5" x 5" black and white monitor. Conversation was nearly impossible since audio quality was so poor that one could only compare it to a bad cellphone."

Perry had defended his unpopular position saying that "it was the inmate's behavior that led to prison in the first place."

DOC spokeswoman Tia Bland describes the change as part of a "family friendly" change designed to keep prisoners happier and allow the maximum security facilities to function more safely and smoothly. She says that the video-only visits will be an option only in special circumstances or "in discipline situations."

Prisoners have also brought suit against the DOC for another of Perry's controversial programs called cognitive restructuring. Prisoners call it "mind control." Prisoners in this program are placed in solitary confinement and served meals in their cells for at least six months. Bland said that this program would probably not be removed.

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican

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