New group questions tough-on-crime measures

A newly formed organization, New Mexico SAFE, wants state legislators who introduce more tough-on-crime legislation to attach an appropriation showing how much the measure would cost and where the funds would come from.

It also wants the legislation to meet a litmus test of four simple standards.

New Mexico SAFE is a partnership of more than two dozen family service, advocacy, religious, health care, civil rights and legal organizations, seeking to “fix New Mexico’s broken justice system,” Adriann Barboa, field director of Strong Families New Mexico, said during a Thursday news conference.

“Every year we see politicians propose the same tired and outdated crime laws that fail to deter criminals and do nothing to make our families and children safer,” Barboa said. The focus should be on “proven strategies that stop crime before it starts.”

Echoing that, Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Council of Catholic Bishops, said, “The more we invest in the playpen, the more we save at the state pen.”

Legislation to increase criminal penalties only serves to separate family members and creates hardships for children in those families, he said. A better alternative is to put money into addiction treatment programs, improving mental and behavioral health services and providing better job training programs.

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“We cannot be satisfied any longer with the endless parade of ineffective tough-on-crime bills that state lawmakers introduce every year,” and with no accountability, said Peter Simonson, executive director of the Albuquerque ACLU. “Do they improve public safety? What impact do they have on the families of offenders? What do they cost our local governments? No one knows.”

New Mexico SAFE is pushing lawmakers to ask these questions to determine if crime legislation is viable:

  • Does it make New Mexico safer for children and families? “Tougher penalties do not correlate with a decrease in crime,” Simonson said, citing studies that show children from homes with an incarcerated family member are more likely to commit crimes and wind up in jail.
  • Is is apolitical? Too many politicians in New Mexico use tough-on-crime bills to prop up political campaigns, he said. “Serious legislation must address the problem of crime and not advance a political agenda.”
  • Is it fiscally responsible? “If it’s not financially sustainable and able to make our communities safer, it’s not worth the money,” he said.
  • Is it evidence-based? Crime legislation should be supported by research or a history of success in other communities. “We cannot afford to waste time and precious money on bills that have no track record of success, nor bills that show racial bias or other inequitable treatment.”

Among the other organizations partnering with New Mexico SAFE are Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, Albuquerque NAACP, Equality New Mexico, League of Women Voters, Native American Voters Alliance, New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers, PB&J Family Services, Somos Un Pueblo Unido and Southwest Women’s Law Center.

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