Thoughts on OIG’s Report Regarding Understaffing at TCDF

DHS OIG found that chronic understaffing at TCDF resulted in poor sanitation and security. This post looks briefly at how much money was paid out to the facility in Ghost Beds during this time and how understaffing is an ongoing issue in New Mexico’s carceral facilities.


March 18, 2022


March 21, 2024

Page last updated: Thursday March 21, 2024 at 08:45:34 AM

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a Management Alert regarding the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) (DHS OIG 2022), a CoreCivic managed, intergovernmental service agreement between ICE and Torrance County, NM. The alert calls for the immediate removal of all persons in ICE custody due to poor conditions that arose from chronic and acute staffing shortages. OIG found that 53% of the cells had plumbing issues that included clogged or inoperable toilets, mold and water leaks were encountered throughout. Housing units were not being properly monitored, in some cases even video control rooms were unoccupied. ICE did not agree with OIG’s the assessment and disputes the finding. Before getting into the staffing issues and resulting inhumane conditions, I want to consider some of the costs that are involved.

Images of TCDF toilets reported by DHS OIG


According to the most recent data from ICE, for fiscal year 2022 to date (10 months), there are on average 198 persons detained at TCDF. Of these, ICE reports 90% are “non criminal” and 95% are ranked as “no threat.” In other words, 95% of the detention population is discretionary and could be released. The same data show that TCDF also currently has a 505 guaranteed bed minimum.

The OIG report notes that, in March, due to low staffing levels, ICE reduced the number of guaranteed beds from 714 to 505. Earlier spreadsheets provided by ICE corroborate this. Given the average detained population of 198, and up to March 1, 2022 a guaranteed minimum of 714 this means there were 516 Ghost Beds. The most current per diem rate information indicates that it is $89.55 a day. We are 10 months into fiscal year 2022.

  • Daily Ghost Bed Cost pre-March 2022: 516 beds x $89.55 per day = $46,208
  • Monthly Ghost Bed Cost: $46, 208 per day x 30 days = $1,386,240
  • Fiscal year to date: $1,386,240 per month x 10 months = $13,862,400

More than $13 million was spent on empty space, just to make it profitable for CoreCivic. Now, on top of this, OIG reports that staffing levels are so low that sanitation and safety levels are dangerous. Though not mentioned by OIG, in 2019 staff assaulted persons detained at TCDF.


In the 9 months before February 2022, when OIG made an announced inspection, there were three other groups of inspectors who visited the facility. Two groups were from DHS’s Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) along with some Creative Corrections contractors. The third were private contractors, the Nakamoto Group.

May 3-7, 2021, ODO performed a Follow-up Compliance Inspection of TCDF and found it complied with 6 of the 11 standards reviewed. There were 9 deficiencies among the 5 deficient standards. ODO recommended “ERO work with the facility to resolve any deficiencies that remain outstanding in accordance with contractual obligations” (ODO 2021a, 9).

July 27-29, 2021 the Nakamoto Group inspected TCDF. The inspection cover letter notes that “the current staffing level is at fifty percent of the authorized correctional/security positions” and that “[s]taff is currently working mandatory overtime shifts” (ERO 2021a). The inspection cover letter also notes problems with sanitation, food service, and water temperatures. The Lead Compliance Inspector recommended a rating of Does Not Meet Standards (ERO 2021b, pg 5). Based on my experience, it is exceedingly rare for facilities to fail an inspection. Working with students, we’ve tallied attributes for 315 inspections and of these 300 passed while 14 were rated either Does Not Pass or Deficient. That is a 96% pass rate, so it is significant that TCDF failed the July 2021 inspection.

November 16-18, 2021 ODO performed a Compliance Inspection of TCDF and found it complied with 18 of the 26 standards reviewed. There were 21 deficiencies among the the 8 deficient standards. ODO recommended “ERO El Paso work with the facility to resolve any deficiencies that remain outstanding in accordance with contractual obligations” (ODO 2021b, 14). The final table in the report shows a Facility Rating of “Superior” for FY2022 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Table from (ODO 2021b, 14) showing TCDF with a rating of Superior for FY2022.

What OIG found in their February, 2022 unannounced inspection was very different than what was reported by ODO just three months prior. ICE’s rejection of OIG’s claims specifically referenced the prior passed inspections. Rather than raise questions about how earlier inspectors could have missed these ongoing issues, or accept that inspectors who regularly pass facilities did not pass TCDF, ICE refers to the inspections to assert there was no issue or matters were resolved.

OIG’s report specifically mentioned observing speedy attempts to clean the facility as the inspectors were walking around.

We also observed unsupervised detainees in the housing units dumping buckets of water from the second story railing in what appeared to be an attempt to quickly clean the housing area. –DHS OIG (2022)

Keep in mind that the “unsupervised detainees” doing the cleaning are paid a $1 per day through ICE’s voluntary work program (ICE 2016, 408). These are in fact “slaving” wages and “the program appears to violate several labor laws and the Fifth, Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments” (Stevens 2015, 391; Sinha 2015). As early as 2014, as many as 60,000 detained individuals work in ICE’s program (Urbina 2014). That number has likely grown.

Among the many people I’ve talked to while they were held in ICE custody, it is a common joke that folks know when inspectors or members of Congress are arriving because there is a flurry of cleaning and people will get at least one hot meal rather than the normal slop. Nearly all of that cleaning and cooking is done by captive labor paid $1 per day. To read that the OIG observed panicked efforts to wash things down during an unannounced inspection recalls the many jokes I’ve been told about frantic pre-inspection cleanings and token food displayed to visitors. While laughing at how bad things are may help detained persons survive these struggles, just like doing some work helps to pass the time even if the wages are exploitative, there’s nothing funny about the fact that millions in tax dollars are going to pay for empty space, that people are held in horrendous conditions, and that the system relies on underpaid incarcerated labor. Detention is wrong to begin with and is a tremendous waste of money.


As a strategy of rural development, the 1990’s saw a sharp increase in the construction of carceral facilities in remote areas (Beale 1998, 2001). There is a large body of literature showing that prisons, and particularly private prisons, are an extremely poor model of rural development (Huling 2003; King, Mauer, and Huling 2003; Besser and Hanson 2004; Blankenship and Yanarella 2004; Gilmore 2007; Hooks et al. 2010). In many ways, TCDF is a textbook case.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now CoreCivic, owned TCDF since 1990. From 1990-1997, the facility contained 286 incarceration beds. In 1997, CoreCivic expanded the facility to 910 incarceration beds more than tripling the capacity. In 2017, the facility was closed briefly and reopened as an ICE detention facility.

Like many other rural prisons, TCDF opened with the promise of good paying rural jobs but they don’t play out well over the long term. In 2017, CoreCivic swiftly closed the facility because there were too many unpaid for empty beds which rendered the facility unprofitable (Dickson 2017; Haywood 2017; Maxwell 2017). This illustrates how privatization incentivises incarceration. News reports at the time lamented the loss of jobs in the town of Estancia and Torrance County. This illustrates how rural prisons as a development strategy relies on high incarceration rates.

In 2019, ICE initiated a contract to begin using the facility for detaining migrants. News reports suggested that the reopening brought a hum of new economic activity (Swetlitz 2019). Likely to mitigate the prior issues with low occupancy, the ICE contract has included guaranteed minimums since reopening. ICE would pay out even if the facility was empty, which it mostly has been for over a year. All available data indicate that tens of millions have now been paid on empty beds at this facility alone.

Meanwhile, internal ICE documents cited by OIG indicate that as early as 2020, one year after reopening, the facility was already unable to meet contractual staffing levels. CoreCivic couldn’t get enough people to work as guards at TCDF. Apparently, under staffing continued for two years.

It bears mention that in 2019, during the early frenzy of the COIVD-19 pandemic, for waging hunger strikes, CoreCivic staff trapped and brutally assaulted persons detained at TCDF with pepper spray (Lanard 2020; Swetlitz 2020). Both CoreCivic and Torrance County are named as defendants in a law suit brought by 9 of the individuals who were assaulted. Amazingly, the assaults seem to have had no factor in OIG’s recommendation to evacuate TCDF. Given the severity of the incident, they should have.

It is important to note that there is chronic understaffing at carceral facilities across New Mexico. The New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) previously fined both CoreCivic and the GeoGroup for not maintaining contracted staffing levels. Multiple private prison facilities were taken over by the state due to low staffing (McKee 2019; KRQE Staff 2021; Haywood 2021a, 2021b). Shortly after this, NMCD announced that there were insufficient staff to screen letters for contraband at public prisons and now inmates would not be able to receive physical letters as all personal correspondence will be scanned and the letters must be accessed electronically. The OIG’s shocking new report about TCDF is another data point demonstrating that incarceration as development is failed public policy.

Incarceration should never be a business and is a terrible idea for a development model. A key goal of a healthy society should be to incarcerate fewer people not more. Moreover, working in a prison isn’t anyone’s first choice for a job–in fact the chronic shortages in the state’s prison staffing demonstrate that it isn’t even desirable.

Release Not Transfer

OIG recommended transferring people out of TCDF and into other ICE facilities. While I believe TCDF should close, transfer is not the right response. The 95% of persons who are detained entirely at ICE’s discretion and according to ICE present no risk should be released and not transferred. Moreover, they should be released on their own recognizance and not burdened with invasive tracking technology like ankle monitors or smartphone checking apps. Those who are held under mandatory detention are suffering the double jeopardy of crimmigration (Stumpf 2006; Abrego et al. 2017; Atak and Simeon 2018; Hernández 2021), a matter that requires urgent legislative action to repeal.


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BibTeX citation:
  author = {Craig, Nathan},
  title = {Thoughts on {OIG’s} {Report} {Regarding} {Understaffing} at
  date = {2022-03-18},
  url = {},
  langid = {en}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
Craig, Nathan. 2022. “Thoughts on OIG’s Report Regarding Understaffing at TCDF.” March 18, 2022.