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Approved NM Probation Reform Hits Snag

A recent legislative study found that recidivism is costing New Mexico taxpayers $40 million per year. (
A recent legislative study found that recidivism is costing New Mexico taxpayers $40 million per year. (
March 21, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico lawmakers have discussed how to reduce the costs to the state for probation and parole for several years, but a bill passed in this legislative session has nonetheless hit a snag.

New Mexico's attorney general and all 14 of the state's district attorneys want the governor to veto House Bill 564, which would change what violations can send offenders back to jail or prison.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored the bill, is bewildered by the pushback, and says those opposed don't seem to understand that better parole strategies can cut costs while protecting public safety, decreasing drug misuse and reducing incarceration.

"Twenty-two states have adopted this modern language, and you have to treat different crimes differently, you have to treat different probationers differently,” he points out. “If you treat everybody the same, then you get worse outcomes in terms of public safety."

Public safety is the reason the attorney general and district attorneys give for why the legislation should be vetoed.

Maestas is drafting his own letter to the governor to explain that the bill would require the Parole Board, which has denied parole to nearly all applicants in recent years, to make written findings in parole decisions.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 26-to-6.

A nonpartisan analysis by the state Legislature showed rising recidivism rates, with men and women returning to New Mexico prisons within three years of their release.

But Maestas says 70 percent of those released from prison are sent back on technical violations, and the new legislation would create a distinction between a legitimate violation and a technical violation.

"The only way you reduce crime is you reduce recidivism, so I must say that when folks dwell so much on punishment as a way to curb crime, it's very difficult for them to see public policy from an honest lens," he stresses.

Probation and parole populations in the U.S. grew 239 percent from 1980 to 2016, according to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts, without addressing the root cause of crime or improving public safety.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM