More prison time won't cut violent crime - Albuquerque Journal

More prison time won’t cut violent crime

The horrific shootings in the last few months have generated calls for reform of our criminal justice system. Although change is necessary, we need to implement new policies based on what works rather than what feels good.

The community’s knee-jerk reaction demanding the incarceration of more people for longer periods of time is a path we have been down before and it hasn’t worked.

According to an Albuquerque Journal article published in January of this year, New Mexico has the second highest violent crime rate in the country. This unenviable statistic is nothing new.

We have been the leaders of violent crime for decades and previous attempts to incarcerate our way out of the problem have failed. In the last 15 years we have increased penalties for many crimes and reduced the numbers of people who are released early from prison.

In 1999 our Legislature passed the “truth in sentencing act,” which dramatically lengthened the sentences of violent offenders by removing “good time” incentives. From 2007 to 2013 the average length of time served by a New Mexico prisoner increased by 37 percent while nationally the trend has been in the opposite direction.

Texas has realized the futility of mass incarceration and recently closed three prisons, saving millions in the process.

It is a natural instinct to seek greater punishment for people committing crimes against our community; however, it does little to stem the endless supply of young offenders. It is time we take a different approach and stop repeating the mistakes of our past.

We must stop pandering to the tough on crime narrative and face the real issues head on. We need to start directing resources at preventing crime and providing positive intervention when people first enter the criminal justice system.

Our community needs to recognize violent crime has its roots in the way we treat our children. Underprivileged kids with absent parents – often incarcerated absent parents – are treated as criminals at younger ages.

Police now routinely patrol our schools with zero-tolerance policies resulting in the handcuffing and detention of kids who 20 years ago would never have been thought criminals. Our politically motivated prosecutors use new laws to charge children “as adults” when we can plainly see they are children. A lack of resources in our public schools and social service systems creates an environment where the seeds of future crime are sown.

Long prison sentences do nothing to address these failures. Once a child enters the criminal justice system he or she is held in juvenile facilities that are ill equipped to deal with his or her problems.

Instead, a culture of punishment, mixed with poorly paid staff, results in the civil rights violations we read about in the newspapers; a young girl beaten by fellow detainees at the direction of a guard; a young boy held in solitary confinement until he becomes psychotic; female guards having sex with teenage boys.

The stories are as endless as they are tragic to our community’s well-being.

The adult system is no better.

Last week we watched guards on video beating and kicking a defenseless woman who lay shackled on the floor in the Metropolitan Detention Center. Solitary confinement has become the go-to punishment in our prisons and jails despite international calls for it to stop.

The Department of Corrections cannot hire people to staff our prisons because their budget is so small, and corruption is allowed to fill the void of low pay. As a result, our recidivism rates are higher than the national average.

The answer is in front of us.

We must invest in our children before they enter the system. When the system does intervene it needs to do so in a dignified and humane way that promotes rehabilitation. Instead of paying for more prison beds we should invest in mental health treatment facilities.

We must stop thinking in terms of punishment alone and instead concentrate on the long-term health of the community.

Our prisoners eventually do return to our streets. It is our job to make sure they return better than they went in.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango


taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Haaland's mother, a Navy vet and longtime civil servant, ...
ABQnews Seeker
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's mother, ... U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's mother, Mary Toya, a longtime civil servant and U.S. Navy vete ...
2
Haaland completes 125th Boston Marathon
ABQnews Seeker
Stansbury pushes renewable energy for Puerto ... Stansbury pushes renewable energy for Puerto Rico
3
West Side food pantry holds fundraising hike: Saturday, Oct. ...
ABQnews Seeker
Brewery donating $1 for every beer ... Brewery donating $1 for every beer sold during event
4
Former APD officer, state rep launches campaign for sheriff
ABQnews Seeker
Pat Ruiloba second candidate in race Pat Ruiloba second candidate in race
5
NM to renew contract to aid struggling pupils
Albuquerque News
Utah firm paid $2 million to ... Utah firm paid $2 million to call, text students who are chronically absent
6
Couple from NM dies in plane crash
ABQnews Seeker
Son: Father spent over 3 years ... Son: Father spent over 3 years building aircraft
7
Realty firm owner is cleared in assault case
ABQnews Seeker
Tenant says woman pointed gun at ... Tenant says woman pointed gun at him
8
NMSU campus power system a 'living lab'
Education
System 'a true learning platform for ... System 'a true learning platform for our students and faculty'
9
Family Advocacy Center brings resources together to help survivors ...
Albuquerque News
Center provides free social, legal and ... Center provides free social, legal and law enforcement services