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New Mexico lawmakers reconsider criminal justice reforms

November 13, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers reviewed proposed legislation Tuesday aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system as new figures show its prison population has increased.

Lawmakers at the meeting in Albuquerque focused primarily on a series of legislative proposals that have failed to become law in the past, including one that would make changes to the state’s costly parole system. Another bill proposes to create a database for crime information.

The bills are coming under review ahead of the Legislature’s 60-day session starting in January. In the past, proposals aimed at decreasing prison populations and crime in New Mexico spurred debates among Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Susan Martinez, a Republican who advocated a tough-on-crime agenda that sought to enhance penalties for criminals.

Democrats, who control the state House and Senate, largely rejected the measures.

Martinez is being replaced in January by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who won election last week.

Those on the criminal justice reform subcommittee are now weighing an agenda that includes amended parole procedures that could make it easier for some former inmates to meet certain demands of parole such as holding a low-wage job and meeting regularly with their parole officer.

Figures in a Legislative Finance Committee report last week showed New Mexico’s prison population increasing, even as nationwide figures reflect incarceration rates overall on the decline.

The report from the Legislature’s non-partisan analysts also showed rising recidivism rates, with an increasing number of men and women returning to New Mexico prisons within three years of their release. Lawmakers say many are returning on technical violations such as failing to report for appointments with parole officers rather than committing new crimes.

“The data shows recidivism is driven by technical parole violations,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, also an Albuquerque Democrat, noted that the committee analysists also found that the state had spent $40 million in a recent year incarcerating inmates who had returned to prison on such technical violations.

He questioned whether small changes to state laws could result in savings and in new funding for treatment and jobs programs for felons as they re-enter society.

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