SANTA FE – Former state Sen. Cisco McSorley vowed to push for more services for released New Mexico inmates after being appointed Tuesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to run the state’s Probation and Parole Division.
An Albuquerque Democrat who served in both the state Senate and the House of Representatives, McSorley will be in charge of overseeing substance abuse and mental illness programs for parolees as part of his new job.
The division is housed within the state Corrections Department, one of several agencies currently operating without a Cabinet secretary-designate.
McSorley, an attorney, told the Journal he will push for the creation of more halfway houses, medical assistance services and counseling for released inmates. Although such programs would most likely require increased funding upfront, he said they would ultimately lead to fewer parolees being sent back to prison.
“We’re way behind in New Mexico,” he said. “What the other states have proven is when you provide those services, there’s not the same rate of recidivism.”
McSorley also said he was asked by Lujan Grisham to take the job, but described leaving the Senate as a difficult choice.
Until submitting his resignation Tuesday, he had held the Senate District 16 seat since 1997. McSorley previously served in the state House from 1985 through 1996, and his combined tenure had given him the distinction of being one of the longest-serving members of the Legislature.
In a statement, Lujan Grisham described McSorley as a “devoted public servant” who would bring important experience to the new administration.
His appointment also creates a second vacancy in the state Senate, which will be filled by the Bernalillo County Commission. The other vacancy was created when Lt. Gov. Howie Morales resigned from the Senate shortly after being sworn in on Jan. 1.
Although the state Constitution prohibits sitting legislators from being appointed to certain civil positions, Lujan Grisham’s general counsel, Matt Garcia, said McSorley’s appointment was allowable because he will not be filling a Cabinet post and his salary will not set by the Legislature.
Meanwhile, McSorley’s appointment also signals a departure from the policies of former Gov. Susana Martinez, who pushed for stiffer criminal penalties for various offenses and opposed proposals to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
As a senator, McSorley in recent years sponsored legislation to eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences and to expand the state’s medical cannabis program.
With a new governor now in office, lawmakers are expected to debate various criminal justice-related bills – including a proposal to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use – during the 60-day session that begins next week.