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Help drug addicts, mentally ill to combat crime

The issues underlying the brutal rape and murder of a child are more complicated than the Albuquerque Journal’s Sept. 11th editorial lets on.

The country is starting to realize that long prison sentences are not the solution to this problem and can, in fact, do more harm than good.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found “given the minimal impact of long prison sentences on crime prevention and the negative social consequences and burdensome financial costs of U.S. incarceration rates, which have more than quadrupled in the last four decades, the nation should revise current criminal justice policies to significantly reduce imprisonment rates.”

Currently, however, there is a glaring lack of both legislative and media attention advocating resources for practices proven to increase public safety – smart spending and reform that would improve our state’s economic development and our crippling high rate of drug addiction and mental illness.

For example, Albuquerque is one of only five communities in New Mexico with a mental health court to address the mental illness of offenders before it escalates to violence. And the state currently has only eight DWI and drug courts — a number extremely low when one considers 80 percent of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol and from 60 percent to 80 percent of drug abusers commit new crimes when released from prison.

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Providing the financial resources for tools to deal with drug addiction and mental illness will pave the way to a less crime-ridden New Mexico and stop the revolving door on our prisons. Legislators who support this direction are not weak on crime, but are increasingly interested in truly making New Mexicans safer by focusing on funding policies that are smart and work rather than on expanding sentences and building more prisons.

Because this is not an instant fix, it may not be a crowd-pleasing solution, but we shouldn’t elect people to run our state based on popularity. We vote for them because we think they can make New Mexico better.

Jennifer Burrill is a Clovis attorney.

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