By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff
New Mexico’s newly established Justice Reinvestment Working Group met on Dec. 14 to work on a data-driven approach to analyze and address challenges in the state’s criminal justice system.
New Mexico is participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a federally funded approach aimed at helping states get maximum value out of their corrections spending and reinvest uncovered savings in initiatives that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that provides nonpartisan advice and evidence-based strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities, is assisting New Mexico in this effort with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew).
“Through justice reinvestment, we will take an in-depth look at our criminal justice data in order to better understand trends in crime, recidivism, behavioral health and corrections spending,” said Senator Sander Rue (R-Bernalillo) cochair of the legislature’s interim Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. “This approach will help us identify tailored solutions that address New Mexico’s distinct challenges and maximize the impact of every dollar we spend.”
During the meeting, the CSG Justice Center presented initial analyses of the state’s criminal justice system. New Mexico had the highest property crime rate in the nation in 2017 and is one of only four states that did not see a decrease in the property crime rate between 2007 and 2017. In 2017, New Mexico’s violent crime rate was the second highest in the country and was at a 10-year high for the state.
New Mexico has also battled significant issues related to drug overdose deaths. In 2017, the state’s rate of overdose deaths had risen to 25 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents. Multiple studies have indicated that people who have opioid addictions who are released from prison or jail face a significantly higher risk of overdose and overdose-related death.
“The proportion of people in the criminal justice system who suffer from mental illness or substance addiction is much higher than it is in the general public,” said Senator Richard C. Martinez (D-Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Santa Fe), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cochair of the legislature’s interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. “By improving how New Mexico’s behavioral health and public safety systems work together, we can make a real difference in the lives of many people who are struggling, better addressing their needs and helping them avoid ongoing contact with the criminal justice system.”
The analyses also revealed that New Mexico is managing a growing prison population. Between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2018, New Mexico’s prison population increased 11 percent, and it is projected to increase an additional 16 percent over the next decade. With the number of people in prison exceeding state-operated capacity, New Mexico’s Corrections Department has contracted with private prisons to accommodate this growth. Currently half of the people in New Mexico’s prisons are housed in private prisons, which is the highest proportion in the nation.
In August, Governor Susana Martinez, New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura and legislative leadership formally requested support from BJA and Pew to use a Justice Reinvestment approach to address challenges in the state’s criminal justice system.