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Judges approves New Mexico settlement with inmates subjected to 'strip and straddle' practice

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LOS LUNAS, New Mexico — A federal judge approved a settlement ordering New Mexico to pay $750,000 to about 500 current and former prisoners who were forced to strip naked and sit front to back for long periods.

District Judge Christina Armijo signed off on the settlement Thursday, more than a year after the sides reached a deal following months of negotiations and two mediations, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://goo.gl/J5QoYy ).

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2011 after inmates claimed they were subjected to the "strip and straddle" practice in 2009 and 2010 at the Los Lunas Correctional Facility.

Inmates described being guarded by gun-wielding corrections officers wearing face masks, being forced to strip to their underwear and sitting single file on the gymnasium floor with their genitals touching the next inmate, according to court documents.

Inmates said they were held in this position for several hours without access to a bathroom, the lawsuit said. In one instance, an inmate urinated on the prisoner in front of him, and several prisoners were forced to sit in the urine, the lawsuit said.

Officials said the practice used to control inmates during unrest or emergencies has been halted, and a Corrections Department lawyer said it won't resume.

The settlement provides per-inmate payments ranging from $528 to $2,114.

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