On September 26, 2013, a 43-year-old man suffering from multiple sclerosis, and said to have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, was free to depart New Mexico’s Department of Corrections after spending 25 years in prison.
Instead, with neither family nor a private nursing home willing to care for him, he signed a waiver and elected to remain behind bars.
Prison administrators later explained to New Mexico's Legislative Health and Human Services Committee in November that they made "a humanitarian decision" when they chose to continue housing a free man – costing taxpayers $128 a day—because he was incapable of caring for himself.
He has since been placed where he likely should have been all along: at a state mental hospital nursing home in Las Vegas, New Mexico, according to Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel.
"It is the right place for him," said Marcantel, who would not identify the man in order to protect his privacy as a patient.
But Liz Thompson, a Democratic state representative from Albuquerque, wanted to know from DOC administrators how the man was ever sent to prison to begin with.
According to prison staff who testified before the committee, the man's mental capacity had diminished greatly since his original conviction for second-degree murder and armed robbery a quarter-century ago. However, staff was unclear as to whether he declined before or after he was first paroled and later incarcerated on drug charges and a probation violation.
Once DOC realized the man had multiple sclerosis and limited mental capacity, Marcantel said, it did its best to keep him safe. Sending him to a mental health facility during his sentence was not an option, Marcantel added, because the court ordered him to be incarcerated.
The man remained in prison until October 15, when he was accepted by UNM Hospitals, which housed him until a bed opened for him at the state nursing home in Las Vegas.
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