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Restorative justice may be good fit for NM, attorney general says

LAS CRUCES – Attorney General Gary King told a border conference Wednesday that Mexican-style restorative justice could alleviate overload in the New Mexico system.

He suggested the state could learn from Mexico’s practice of bringing victims and perpetrators of petty crime face to face to keep small crimes from clogging the system.

“They sit across the table from each other,” he said. “They can work out an arrangement where the victim is compensated by the perpetrator of the crimes. I think our system, which is overloaded, could really benefit from looking at the Mexican restorative justice system.”

Restorative Justice New Mexico’s website defines the process as one that “looks at the crime in terms of harm that has been done, rather than rules which have been broken.” It seeks to include all the people affected by the crime in a solution.

King said he witnessed restorative justice at work in a courthouse in Mexicali in the state of Baja California Norte. State District Court judges have recommended restorative justice in criminal cases including a 2011 shooting in Santa Fe, and Albuquerque has used restorative justice in juvenile offenses for years.

Dave Pederson, general counsel to the attorney general, said restorative justice is prevalent in Navajo and other tribal courts and it is a tool judges have the option to use. But it hasn’t been widely institutionalized in the state criminal justice system.

“It has not been formalized to a great degree other than the creation of some of our specialty courts, which I think are a spinoff of this concept,” Pederson said, referring to drug court and mental health court.

King said, “I’ve talked to a lot of people about it because as I’ve seen it operate in Mexico, I think it’s really something that we can do here in a fairly straightforward way.”

King spoke as part of New Mexico State University’s first Binational Summit on Values and the Culture of Lawfulness, a two-day conference that began Tuesday in Chihuahua.

The summit brought together leaders from universities and justice systems in both New Mexico and Mexico to discuss the issues of border security and rule of law in Mexico, which is undergoing a massive overhaul of its justice system – a transition that is backed in part by U.S. State Department funds that have paid for, among other things, training for Mexican prosecutors and investigators in New Mexico through the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative.