Historically, to bring claims against government officials for unconstitutional prison conditions, individuals incarcerated in New Mexico had one vehicle for redress: Section 1983 claims based on the protections of the Federal Constitution. If an individual seeks relief via Section 1983 for prison conditions that are in violation of the Eighth Amendments protections against cruel and unusual punishment, courts apply a “deliberate indifference” standard to determine the liability of prison officials. This defendant-friendly standard requires that incarcerated plaintiffs suffer an objective harm and—crucially—that the relevant officials have a culpable state-of-mind of deliberate indifference. In 2021, the New Mexico Legislature passed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act (“NMCRA”) to provide a vehicle for constitutional redress under the state constitution, essentially, a state-level Section 1983 counterpart. As a result, practitioners in New Mexico now have a unique opportunity to help define the state constitutional rights afforded to incarcerated individuals and how such rights deviate from federal constitutional law. This Comment argues that New Mexico courts can—and should—reject the federal “deliberate indifference” standard used to assess unconstitutional prison conditions violations. Instead, when interpreting the state’s Eighth Amendment analogue, New Mexico courts should adopt a standard that better protects the rights of incarcerated individuals.

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