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HB 564 takes aim at recidivism

The New Mexico Legislature has been working for years in a bipartisan fashion on smart, cost-effective criminal justice reforms that will increase public safety by focusing on violent crimes, and ensuring swift and certain justice. It’s imperative that we continue to work together to fully fund the DA offices, public defenders and our criminal courts. We also must move toward modern, data-driven solutions and learn best practices from other states that are lowering crime.

That’s why I sponsored House Bill 564 to reduce recidivism by getting a better handle on prison admissions caused by revocations from supervision, particularly for less serious, so-called technical violations. It is a product of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and New Mexico’s work with the Council of State Governments Justice Center. This bill does not deal with those sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of release or parole, nor does it change the power and authority of the parole board in any way.

The bill is a response to the findings published in October 2018 by the Legislative Finance Committee Program Evaluation Unit called “Corrections Department – Status of Programs to Reduce Recidivism.” The study found that while the recidivism rates across the country are dropping, the recidivism rate here in New Mexico is increasing, rising to 50 percent in 2018, an 11 percent increase since 2010. It was also determined that parole revocations for technical violations related to drug use contribute to half of the recidivism rate. Approximately one-third of total prisoners admitted to the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) is due to failed drug tests or missed appointments. We’ve actually known about these problems for years, but we were unable to address them under the previous administration.

HB 564 categorizes various violations and differentiates the responses of the system, similar to having different punishments for different crimes. Now, instead of deciding between a return to prison or continuing supervision, judges and the Probation and Parole Department are provided many more options to deal proportionately with the wide array of possible violations.

For example, HB 564 allows for swift sanctions in the local jail for up to 90 days. Additionally, this legislation commits more resources and intense supervision on the front end – when offenders first get released – and incentivizes good behavior, which lowers officers’ caseloads on the back end.

HB 564 requires the NMCD to develop statewide uniformity on sanctions and incentives, which will ensure objective, consistent, proportionate responses and allow officers more discretion by distinguishing between high- and low-risk offenders. Research has shown positive reinforcements and incentives help reduce recidivism as much as or more than a sanctions-only approach. Of course, all violations are still subject to revocation.

Everyone misses appointments. Probationers should not return to prison for a missed appointment or one failed drug test. … Probation is the best opportunity the state government has to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.

Twenty-two states have adopted similar laws, and the money we save will be much better spent on behavioral health services and substance abuse programs, which are more effective at reducing crime.

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