Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico faces a shortage of housing options for inmates leaving the prison system and in need of a stable place to stay while they transition back into the community, corrections officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
In committee testimony, leaders of the state Adult Probation and Parole Division and a transitional housing program said it’s difficult to find appropriate housing, especially for geriatric inmates and others who need mental health or medical services.
But stable housing, they said, is a critical part of helping former inmates find employment and succeed after prison.
“There’s always more need than there are places,” said Ricki Bloom, program manager for Dismas House, a transitional living program in the North Valley of Albuquerque. “We need more beds.”
A particular challenge, she said, is that much of the low-income and subsidized housing in Albuquerque is managed by companies that prohibit renting to felons.
The testimony came as New Mexico legislators prepare for a 30-day session next year dedicated largely to crafting a state budget, amid projections for strong growth in revenue.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is empowered to broaden the agenda, has said she intends to make public safety legislation a priority for the session.
Albuquerque – the state’s largest city – is enduring a record-breaking year for homicides. Debate over addressing crime and homelessness has been a focus of this year’s mayoral campaign in the city.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and all 70 seats in the state House will be on the ballot next year. Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-chair of the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, which heard the housing presentation, said expanding options for people leaving the prison system would help improve public safety.
“Everyone’s talking about – and legitimately they’re concerned about – community safety,” Chasey said, “but if you can get people who are (released) and help them stabilize, you’re going to make the community safer.”
She suggested the state might ask business leaders to help ensure felons aren’t prohibited from renting units in subsidized housing.
Haven Scogin, manager of community corrections for the state, said the lack of appropriate housing throughout New Mexico can lead to more ex-inmates ending up in Albuquerque.
“Our goal is to release people into communities where they’re from” and draw on family connections, Scogin said. “Some often end up in Albuquerque but have no ties to the area.”
Inmates, she said, typically work with transitional coordinators six months before their release date. Special units review the plan, and a probation and parole officer visits the home, if it’s a private residence, to talk to family and friends.
Officers can recommend GPS-tracking, substance-abuse treatment or other conditions of supervision.
Group living options for ex-inmates range from 24-7 supervision at in-patient programs to halfway houses with no on-site programming.
The Corrections Department generally covers housing costs for one to three months.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the state’s inmate population has dropped, according to the New Mexico Sentencing Commission. In the last fiscal year, the number of male inmates housed by the Corrections Department peaked near 6,000.