By Cynthia Miller
A team of top officials from all branches of state government will closely examine juvenile justice data this year in an effort to improve a system that has seen a steady decline in incarcerated youth but a steep rise in costs to detain them and increasing violence at detention centers.
New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson and Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil announced Thursday in Albuquerque that they will lead a task force of District Court and tribal judges, lawmakers, top prosecutors, defense attorneys and others to review the juvenile justice system and recommend policy changes ahead of the 2018 legislative session.
The goal of the Juvenile Justice Improvement Initiative Taskforce, which will be aided by a division of the U.S. Justice Department, is to find ways to improve outcomes for the thousands of troubled young New Mexicans who end up in the system. In an interview Thursday, Jacobson said that means giving them the skills and support they need to succeed after they are released from lockup — or even before they are detained.
In a statement Thursday, Vigil said, “This comprehensive, data-driven review provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to … make sure we are using resources to make our system more effective and fair and better serve the needs of youth and families.”
The child welfare agency takes the lead in operating state juvenile facilities and monitoring those run by local governments. But juvenile justice involves a wide range of state and local government agencies.
“It’s important that we all come together so we’re not operating in silos,” Jacobson said.
The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is offering technical assistance to New Mexico and Nevada for their similar juvenile justice reform initiatives, according to a news release, and the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center will help analyze data for the New Mexico team.