Liveblog Pt. 2: Criminal Justice Reform

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Photo Credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts via Compfight cc

A legislative panel tasked with updating the state’s criminal code is convening today, Aug. 27. Managing Editor Margaret Wright will provide live updates from the proceedings. (Full agenda.)

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4:40 p.m.: Information Technology Needs for N.M. Corrections

Sec. Gregg Marcantel says organization and prevention are fundamental to maintaining safe, pro-social conditions in state prisons. And he adds his dept.’s technology deficits are serious:

The current computerized Offender Management System was implemented in 2000 and still in use today.

Marcantel: We’re trying to push parole and probation supervision into the home, and we can’t to that with the current system since it’s not internet-based.

Joe Booker, deputy secretary of operations for NMCD: Technology deficit makes it cumbersome to conduct analysis and measure program outcomes.

What the department needs now: A mobile product that allows the agency to marshal evidence-based tools to monitor which programs which and which don’t. Also: victim, court and law enforcement notification that works in real time.

Probation officers in New Mexico are burdened by a time-consuming process to track and report on folks on their case loads.

Booker’s suggestion: Train state employees to help the agency transition into use of a new, more mobile IT system.

Projected cost: $8.5 million to purchase with three-year cost of $11.9 million. But over time, says Booker, the cost savings are estimated at 50 percent.

New IT would also save the state money in litigation; a number of inmates are released improperly due to problems with the current setup.


4:30 p.m.: Transitional Living Needs for the N.M. Corrections Dept.

The NMCD is actively working with community programs to improve transitional supports for people leaving the prison system.

The cost per inmate, per day in N.M.: $104. Compare that to the cost of housing someone in a transitional living facility: $80 for men/$50 for women.

Secretary Gregg Marcantel says improved community collaboration and departmental funding are among the top items on his wish list. He also hopes local and state governments will commit to long-term investment to meaningful reform and cost-saving measures, however incremental. “We don’t have enough resources in this state to fix the system all at once.”


4:20 p.m.: Apologies for the technical difficulties and posting delay. Lengthy troubleshooting led to conclusion that the University of New Mexico’s wi-fi connection blocked access to our website. Posting now from a borrowed iPhone hotspot.


2:50 p.m.: Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel says there are about 700 women in the state prison system, but that number is growing along with the length of their sentences. KC Quirk of the transitional housing program Crossroads for Women says the agency has resources to help about 40 women and their families.

2:00 p.m.: Micaela Cadena urges folks working on  reform to consider the effects, including unintended consequences, on women-identified New Mexicans. Their experiences of the criminal justice system differ significantly from those of men.

1:35 p.m.: Presentation by Micaela Cadena, policy director for Young Women United and KC Quirk, executive director for Crossroads for Women + panel of women who have experienced incarceration

First female panelist: “Criminalizing addiction is not working,” and policy makers should be examining gender-specific solutions to growing numbers of women and mothers who are caught in criminal justice system.

Second panelist: After moving to Albuquerque following release from prison, she found she could only afford to live in an neighborhood where drug abuse was rampant. She worked 16 hours days in fast food and hotel service. “My family might be better now if I’d had help when I was asking for it. … I had nowhere to go for help [with addiction].”

She continues: Families in such situations deserve a chance to heal. “I knew if I didn’t get into a [treatment]program I wouldn’t have made it. … My goal in life was to stay stable for my daughter.”

The third panelist, a former recipient of services at Crossroad for Women: Formerly homeless and crippled by addiction, she says she “spent most nights in a tent outside Santa Fe.” Treatment that finally helped her drew on contemporary brain science to help her understand how her addiction functions. She says existing treatment programs are woefully inadequate for women suffering from addiction.

“The justice system labels me and others as addicts … Often law enforcement judges us because of our histories. Me and other moms like me need to be able to take care of our kids without fear. … Don’t judge us for being addicts. Help us overcome the disease.”

A fourth panelist says she cycled in and out of the prison system after multiple addiction relapses. The various treatment she received simply didn’t work. It’s taken comprehensive, long-term, wraparound services to finally get sober. “Today I believe with proper support and hard work, I will not return to jail.”

The fifth panelist says she’s been dealing with years of chronic mental illness. Attempts to self-medicate led to criminal activity and jail time. “I truly believe if you take a look at recidivism in this state, it’s very high. … What’s been missing is the housing component with the treatment and mental health components in one fold.” She says she’s grateful to be alive today.

Albuquerque-based Young Women United launched a campaign in May "to push back on the inaccurate but common assumption that mamas struggling with addiction must love their drugs more than their kids." (Photo via YWU Facebook page.)

Albuquerque-based Young Women United launched a campaign in May “to push back on the inaccurate but common assumption that mamas struggling with addiction must love their drugs more than their kids.” (Photo via YWU Facebook page.)


 

12:25 p.m.: Rep. Maestas says records expungement has become politicized in a way it never has been before. He also argues that the resistance of DAs (or, in the case of the governor, former DAs) against close consideration of collateral consequences has other unfair repercussions for defendants.

12:20 p.m.: Speaker from the DA’s office says for several years  it has neither supported nor opposed changes to the law regarding records expungement.

“As a prosecutor, if you concern yourself too much with collateral consequences, you create disparate treatment of people involved,” he says, adding that collateral consequences differ for each individual.

12:05 p.m.: Regarding criminal records expungement, the Legislature passed SB 0002 in its 2012 session, but it was vetoed by Gov. Martinez.

11:55 a.m.: Sen. Ivey-Soto says an ongoing, historical problem in N.M. is a lack of comprehensive data collection and comparison to avoid improper voter disenfranchisement.

11:30 a.m.: Sen. Sander Rue cautions Lewis and colleagues against “using the race card” as they try to win over members of the public on proposed reforms.


11:00 a.m.: Attorney Sheila Lewis discusses the collateral consequences of criminal convictions

Collateral consequences of criminal convictionssuch as continuous barriers to employmentamount to a life sentence for many folks, particularly those who have received felony convictions.

Lewis says New Mexico has seen sensible, progressive legislation pass to address unfair collateral consequences, but we need to go further.

She sites this set of precedents: “New Mexico’s courts have held that defense counsels’ failure to inform clients prior to a guilty plea about the collateral consequences on immigration rights and sex offender registration requirements constitutes per se ineffective assistance of counsel.”

Problem: Folks released from prison have to wait too long to be issued a state ID, which they need to apply for jobs. They also lack references for job applications.

Solution: Allow the MVD to expedite this process and waive the fee for people reintegrating in the community after incarceration. And work with corrections staff so they routinely provide quality job references.

Lewis says legislation to allow for the thorough expungement of arrest records is key to mitigating collateral consequences. A bill passed by the Legislature was vetoed by Gov. Martinez. Lewis urges legislators to stay focused on getting something similar passed.

Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and members of the public all need to be better educated about collateral consequences of conviction, says Lewis.

Lewis also urges legislators to expand our “ban the box” law so it applies to both private and public employers, as well as housing requirements. And folks who were denied a job should be able to know why. Homelessness is a severe collateral consequence of criminal convictions, and it heavily factors into recidivism risk.

Lewis says a closer look at the use of deferred sentencing and conditional discharges should be a top priority, as both of these procedures carry heavy collateral consequences.

Our criminal justice system discriminates based on race, says Lewis. This means if an employer has a policy of making hiring decisions based on arrest records, that same race discrimination is built into the employment arena.

A recap of Lewis’ recommendations:

  • Shift polices at DOC and MVD to improve employment prospects of people who have been convicted of a crime.
  • Redraft conditional discharge and deferred sentencing statutes. They need to be cleaned up so that everyoneespecially the people using them to enter guilty pleasunderstands the full scope of consequences.
  • Amend “ban the box” law to apply to all employers and affordable housing programs.
  • Enact a fair arrest records expungement law.

9:40 a.m.: Presentation by Professor Leo Romero from the UNM School of Law

Prof. Romero was involved with a previous effort to reform the state’s criminal code in the 1980s.

Romero’s perspective on existing criminal code: Many crimes are defined in terms of conduct and not the mental state of the person committing conduct. The second problem is that statutory wording that refers to intent (“willfully,” “negligently”) are too vague.

Four states of mind are currently referred to criminal proceedings:

Intent = A person acts with purpose of doing something

Knowingly = A person is aware of what they’re doing and the consequences of those actions

Recklessly = Aware of risk yet exercises conscious disregard

Negligently = Unaware of risk

However, loose interpretations of these terms (and others) presents a real problem for the court system and has caused major confusion in New Mexico jurisprudence for a long time.

Why wasn’t the revised criminal code enacted back in the ’80s? Because the state AG and local DA were concerned that Prof. Romero’s proposal would slant the state code in favor of defendants. Meanwhile, the state’s public defenders also opposed it, saying they preferred existing code.

It’s imperative that the public knows the criminal code needs to be updated, says Romero, suggesting the formation of a state commission that includes an inclusive range of stakeholders. He says it should also include a bipartisan team of legislators, community advocates and citizens.

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