New Mexico Criminal Justice Reform: Liveblog Part 3

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Victims of Crime, Bail Bonds & Legislative Proposals

by Margaret Wright

— A legislative panel tasked with updating the state’s criminal code is convening today, Sept. 24, at 9 a.m. Managing Editor Margaret Wright will provide live updates from the proceedings. (Full agenda.)

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3:45 p.m.: Reform Recommendations by the New Mexico Chief Public Defender

Among the slew of proposals submitted to legislators:

  • Remove marijuana from the most severe class (Schedule I) of drug offenses;
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia “should carry substantially less penalties than possession of the affiliated drug”;
  • Reduce penalties for “possession for sale” or actual sale of small amounts of marijuana to a misdemeanor;
  • Reduce mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Reserve higher-grade felonies for truly serious offenses;
  • Limit first-degree murder to acts that are pre-meditated and deliberate so the charge maintains a deterrent effect;
  • Prohibit “debtors’ prisons” (incarceration of folks who can’t pay fees, fines or other court costs);
  • Create new standards for parolees and probationers to make it easier for them to find housing that fits conditions of their release;
  • Expand educational and mental health programs for juvenile inmates;
  • Allow alternatives to prison and jail for criminal activity resulting from mental health crises;
  • In rural areas, develop mass transportation systems and increase rehab resources to help address DWI

3:20 p.m.: The Role of Bail Bondsmen in the Judicial Process

Bail bondsman (and president of the state industry association) Gerald Madrid outlines the basics of his work: Bondsmen help get people out of jail, then help to make sure defendants show up for court. “If we don’t do a good job, the marketplace takes care of us real easily.” He says that chief among the problems bondsmen face is conflict with government pre-trial services.

Madrid says as the pre-trial services system has grown, so has the number of pre-trial parole and probation violations. That leads to jail overcrowding; many of the Bernalillo County MDC inmates are there now because of no-bond holds.

Tony’s brother and fellow bondsman John Madrid says judges too often try to improperly use bondsmen to arrest folks who have violated pre-trial parole or probation conditions. A better alternative, he says, would be to work in conjunction to help address jail overcrowding. “We need pre-trial services to work with the indigent,” says John, as well as people with mental health issues.

A jaw-dropping statement by Gerald Madrid: Bounty hunters in New Mexico have the power to arrest people, but they aren’t licensed or regulated.

John Madrid: Not allowing free calls to bondsmen creates a critical clog in the county jail system.

Rep. Maestas: Bernalillo County’s under the false impression that charging fees for calls to bail bondsmen saves money, when it actually costs the county to hold folks until they get bonded out.

Gerald Madrid says the original intent of pre-trial services was to reduce prison overcrowding and assist indigent inmates. Today they have the opposite effect.


2:45 p.m.: Lively discussion between BernCo Criminal Justice Review Commission Chair Arthur Pepin and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto includes assertion that money bails are often set too high and release on recognizance is underutilized.

Says Pepin: The impact of the bail system in this country has been profound, skewing the justice system in favor of people with money and at the expense of low income folks, people of color. “It imposes costs on our government, costs on society, and it compels folks to agree to pleas that aren’t in their best interest.”

Rep. Maestas: The DA’s Office in Bernalillo County has been on cruise control for a while now.

Pepin agrees the DA can safely and reasonably circumvent many cases soon after an arrest occurs; they should never end up on court dockets.


2:00 p.m.: Report from the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Review Commission

via Arthur Pepin, commission chair:

Chief among the commission’s priorities (which was put into motion following successful legislation): reduce the inmate population of Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Today the average inmate waits more than 200 days for trial. 60 percent of the inmates are awaiting adjudication, and it costs millions to house them.

Federal litigation ongoing since the mid-1990s makes it clear that MDC can’t house inmates beyond the capacity it was designed for (at a total population of approx. 2000 inmates).

To avoid overcrowding last year, the county was forced to send 707 inmates to other jails around the state, at a cost of millions. There’s another cost to this practice: Attorneys and public defenders have a harder time accessing their clients and providing adequate representation.

So what’s the conventional alternative? Build more jail space, which would also cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

Instead, Bernalillo County has funded a series of changes, including pro tem judges, expansion of pre-trial services and improved evaluations of inmates before sentencing, all of which have helped relieve pressure on the jail.

Transformation of the county jail system requires systematic transformation that involves judges, DAs and public defenders.

Discussions of criminal justice in Bernalillo County must include discussions of mental health, says Pepin. The real issue is that many offenders are struggling with underlying issues that haven’t been treated properly.

Folks experiencing an acute mental health crisis are more likely to come into contact with the police. And the county lacks the resources (such as a crisis triage center) to intervene.

Other recommendations: Improve functioning of the court that’s housed within the jail. More resources (including human ones like paralegals and in-house judges) would mean more efficient resolutions of many cases that today weigh down the system.

Mental health initiatives aren’t a cheap initial investment, but it will help divert citizens from the criminal justice system and save taxpayers money in the long run.

Rep. Antonio Maestas: It’ll require political will to sponsor state legislative remedies to problems at the county level.


 

11:45 a.m.: Legislative Options for Reform

Presentation by Charles Sallee, Deputy Dir. for Program Evaluation, Legislative Finance Committee:

Taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars every few years to cover the incarceration of a small number of New Mexicans.

The Legislature has given the executive branch a significant amount of flexibility when it comes to administering the state’s criminal justice system, especially the corrections department. Legislators may want to consider giving the executive branch more direction.

Key recommendation: Needs and risks of inmates should be comprehensively assessed before they’re sentences, so they can be matched up with appropriate programs both in and out of the prison system.

Other recommendations:

  • The majority of corrections systems program funding should be directed to approaches that are research-proven to reduce recidivism.
  • Judges should be encouraged to use creative and deferred sentencing options to minimize pressures of overcrowding in county jails.
  • Geriatric prisoners and others with medical needs who don’t pose a threat should be considered for special community sentencing.

Even a 10 percent reduction in recidivism can save huge money over time. And there’s major overlap between the prison system, the adult behavioral health system and child protective services.

Rep. Gail Chasey: The state’s overhaul of the behavioral health system has meant a reduction in services, and that negatively impacts both the prison system and the state’s child protective services.

Sallee’s response: The state knows what works when it comes to areas like child protective services, but the financial investment doesn’t measure up. “We’re not choosing models that are likely to give us the best results.”

Adds Sallee, if qualified offenders can be enrolled in Medicaid for services they need, the state corrections department could see significant savings (to the tune of an estimated $10 million).

Tony Ortiz, director of the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, points out that criminal offenders in New Mexico ranks as more violent when compared nationally. And their re-entry into the community is complicated by a severe lack of appropriate housing (an issue that was discussed in detail during previous subcommittee meetings).


11:15 a.m.: Legislators express concern over testimony that a Santa Fe law enforcement officer may be up for a promotion as he’s facing domestic violence allegations.

Rep. Gail Chasey: There should be clear mechanisms in place for an outside entity, such as the state attorney general’s office, to step in and take over investigations in such cases.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas says he wants to avoid creating a situation where it’s hard for the state to intervene in domestic violence cases. Conviction ratios in Albuquerque courts are abysmal, he says, which may be the result of policy changes backfiring in practice. He says victims should be better informed of the prosecutorial process.

Sen. Ivey-Soto cautions against creating conflicts in the law, which he’s seen happen in cases of both domestic violence and DWI. Of proposed SB 291, which would create permanent no-contact orders for sex offenders: “It’s problematic, because we’re now mixing civil law with criminal.” The legislation calls for criminal judges to impose civil restraining orders, says Ivey-Soto. “It may make us feel really good to pass this, but we may not helping you when we do.”


10:45 a.m.: Perspectives of Crime Victims

Joan Shirley from the New Mexico Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death testifies that families of murder victims desperately want to believe that the criminal justice system works for them, but courtroom expediency and prison overcrowding often mean that offenders get lesser charges. It’s disillusioning, says Shirley, to see non-violent drug offenders get harsher sentences than violent offenders. Very few families whose loved ones have been murdered actually see first-degree murder charges leveled against offenders. Often criminals are pled down to lesser degree offenses or manslaughter charges.

A woman who has endured domestic violence in Santa Fe says she doesn’t consider herself a survivor yet, as she still hasn’t extricated herself from abusive relationship with her husband, who’s a police officer.

She testifies that she’s been discouraged by police from reporting her husband’s offenses; she says officers told her that because she’d fought back and scratched him, she’d be subject to arrest as well. Her husband has made continuing threats agains her, she says.

“He knows how to play the system,” she says, adding that the Santa Fe police chief is willing to hire officers who have domestic violence charges in their background. Her husband is even up for a promotion. “I can’t call the police because they’re all his friends.”


 

Ben Lewinger, the state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, emphasizes that his organization assists victims of all forms of substance-impaired driving, including prescription medications and marijuana.

For the first time in several years, New Mexico is on track to see DWI numbers increase. “Victims of DWI are definitely victims of a violent crime.”

 

(screenshot from NM Dept. of Transportation's 2011 DWI Report)

(screenshot from NM Dept. of Transportation’s 2011 DWI Report)


 

A victim of childhood rape and incest says she wasn’t notified by parole board or DA’s office when her father was up for parole. In 2013, her rapist began stalking her, but since he’d already served his sentence, she was forced to file a restraining order and face her attacker in court. She urges legislators to enact permanent protective orders for victims of sexual violence and assault.


 

Leiona Woelk, a scientist with UNM’s Prevention Research Center, cites stats that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 20 men in New Mexico will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. Those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, she adds, as sexual assault is a severely under-reported crime.

Another key stat: 92 percent of people who reported to the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico knew their attacker.

Sexual violence is preventable if we take a comprehensive, coordinated approach, including technical assistance at the community level, says Woelk. “We need to engage our entire community, developing policy, working with partner organizations.” She points to ongoing education efforts around consent. In Albuquerque, for instance, the Rape Crisis Center is working with young boys, college-aged men and others to help them confront attitudes that support sexual violence and dehumanize women.

 

 

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