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KUNM News Update

THURS: Report shows more people stuck in NM prisons beyond their release dates, County orders MDC to fix problems, USFS to reopen forests, + More

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More people stuck in NM prisons beyond their release dates in recent months, LFC report shows - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

A growing number of New Mexicans incarcerated in state prisons are being held beyond their official release date because there are not enough resources outside the walls to meet their mental health needs.

The problem is nothing new, but the number of incarcerated New Mexicans still sitting in cells under so-called “in-house parole” has increased by more than one-third over the past few months, according to analysts with the Program Evaluation Unit, part of the Legislative Finance Committee.

“There are instances in which an inmate in our custody has an approved parole plan that includes moving toward a treatment bed on the outside,” a New Mexico Corrections Department official told KUNM in 2015. “If there is no bed available at that time, then that person in our custody will be waiting for a bed in our prison facilities.”

In some cases, people’s parole hearings got scratched off the docket of the state parole board because prison officials don’t always send the paperwork to the board, Prison Legal News found in 2018.

And according to Searchlight New Mexico, some people locked up beyond their parole dates have paid to jump to the front of the waiting list for a halfway house, while people without the ability to come up with the money remained behind bars.

The number of people in this situation appears to have increased from an estimated average of 61 between September and November to an average of 70 between December and January, according to a quarterly performance report published by the LFC on June 6.

The number increased further — from 75 in mid-April, to 95 on May 16, and to 101 on May 26, the LFC wrote. That would bring the quarterly average to 90 people held in prisons and jails beyond their release dates.

This increase is particularly notable, the LFC wrote, because the state’s Corrections Department previously cut the number of in-house parolees by almost half between 2020 and 2021.

Even though the yearly average is likely to be lower than last year, the LFC wrote, “this upward trend is concerning.”

What’s more, the Corrections Department has not been reporting results the way it is required to by the LFC and the state Department of Finance and Administration, the LFC wrote in the latest quarterly report.

In fact, the new method of calculation makes the number seem lower.

“NMCD’s reporting on release-eligible inmates imprisoned past their release dates (those serving ‘in-house parole’) continues to not comply with guidance from DFA and LFC,” the LFC wrote.

Previously, the Corrections Department was taking the number of people serving in-house parole and dividing that number by the total number of people who were eligible for release.

But the Corrections Department changed the way they calculated the measure in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021. They started reporting the number of people on in-house parole divided by the total prison population. This had the effect of making the measure appear much smaller than it actually is.

The LFC wrote that the Corrections Department’s new way of calculating the measure was wrong. Prison officials fixed the problem, LFC wrote, “but did not provide corrected historical reports.”

“In its first report for FY21, NMCD clarified that several of its most significant measures had been calculated incorrectly for years and revised these calculations,” the LFC wrote. “Unfortunately, failure to provide historic data for the department’s overall three-year recidivism rate and measures related to release-eligible inmates and inmate education render these long-term measures effectively useless, as there is nothing to compare them to.”

The LFC wrote that its own analysts and those from DFA believe the Corrections Department’s original way of calculating the measure is correct, “but NMCD has not revised its reports for FY21 or FY22 despite explicit guidance to do so.”

Legislative analysts have flagged the issue in every quarterly report since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2021, but it remains a problem to this day.

This is not the only area where legislative analysts have found problems in reports they receive from the state’s prison administrators. Recidivism looks like its improving, but that can’t really be determined fully, the LFC wrote.

According to the committee, errors in reporting past and present “create difficulties in analyzing some areas of NMCD’s performance.”

County approves order to address MDC issues — KUNM News, Elise Kaplan, Albuquerque Journal

County Officials approved on Tuesday an order requiring the Metropolitan Detention Center to address a long list of issues plaguing the jail.

The order will require MDC to increase the amount of time inmates are under direct supervision, decrease their amount of time in lockdown, and improve safety conditions in general, according to a report from the Albuquerque journal.

As per the newspaper, the order stipulates the jail must hire more than 100 people over the next two years, with benchmarks set every six months in order to help meet those goals.

MDC, which currently has more than 1400 people incarcerated, has a more than 50 percent vacancy rating among correctional officers, at times having as few as 13 guards and two supervisors on shift for the entire jail.

The lack of supervision has led to safety conditions so poor that the New Mexico Public Defenders office will now no longer meet clients in person at the jail, and has forced MDC’s chief to declare a state of emergency twice in June alone.

While the order is a stp in the right direction, current correctional officers say the order is a “joke” and that they would need to hire those 100 people in the next six months to make a difference.

USFS announces lifts restrictions, reopens forests – KUNM news 

The monsoons have arrived in New Mexico earlier than normal, which brings long sought good news for the multiple wildfires and forests across the state.

The US Forest service announced today that not only are they reopening Cibola, Lincoln, Carson and most of Santa Fe National Forests, but they will also be lifting stage 2 fire restrictions in the forests, thus allowing campfires.

The Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger district in the Santa Fe National forest will remain under a fire closure, however, along with the Bear Trap area close to Magdalena, and the Camino Real district near Penasco, according to a press release.

Forest Supervisor James Duran said some areas in the Carson Forest, for example, will remain closed temporarily, and thus asks visitors to check conditions and “know before you go.”

City makes plan for $49 million in pandemic relief — KUNM news, Jessica Dyer, Albuquerque journal

Albuquerque city councilors on Wednesday, voted to appropriate nearly 50 million dollars the city recently received via the American Rescue Plan act.

Most of the money will go towards projects, facilities and services aimed at helping unhoused people, according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal.

For example, the report states $7 million will go toward building a new youth shelter, and $4 million will go to cover wellness motels–a program where the city uses motels for homeless families and those who need to be isolated from the general shelter population.

The council also allocated more than $10 million to several line items involving the long anticipated Gibson Health Hub, a redesign of the former Lovelace hospital that will include a new shelter, as well as a medical substance detox center, and a respite center for people who need to recover at home after initial medical treatment — but don’t have a home to go to.

The city previously received $150 million in aid under the CARES act, most of which covered public safety payroll.

New Mexico election drama has roots in wider county movement — Christina A. Cassidy, Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A rural New Mexico county's initial refusal to certify its primary election results sent ripples across the country last week, a symbol of how even the most elemental functions of democracy have become politicized pressure points amid the swirl of lies stemming from the 2020 presidential outcome.

After the Otero County Commission finally relented, one question persisted: Why New Mexico, a state that has not been a political battleground and where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump handily two years ago?

The seeds of the short-lived election crisis, which ended amid a showdown with the secretary of state and an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court, had been planted months before, when David Clements, a lawyer who has gained prominence in conservative circles, and others began raising conspiracy theories and false claims about the last presidential election that came to dominate political discussion in the heavily Republican county.

But it's not just Otero County where local election administration is in the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists, and it's not just Clements involved in the effort.

Across the country, supporters and allies of former President Donald Trump have been meeting with local officials — sowing doubts about the 2020 election, seeking access to voting equipment and pressing for changes that would upend election administration in their counties. The effort has led to security breaches of voting equipment and, in New Mexico, chaos surrounding what has historically been a routine task.

"You have seen a whole bunch of people — some sincere, some perhaps less sincere — who have rushed to fill the demand to provide evidence of the fraud that Trump created," said David Levine, a former election official who is now a fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election that could have changed the outcome.

Even before the Nov. 3, 2020, election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud was the only way he could lose re-election, pointing mostly — and without evidence — to the expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

In the months since, there has been no evidence to support the claims. They have been dismissed by dozens of judges, by Trump's attorney general at the time, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officials who called the 2020 vote the "most secure" in U.S. history.

That hasn't stopped the false claims from proliferating, driven by a group of Trump supporters who appear at many of the same events and engage with each other regularly.

Clements, a former assistant district attorney in southern New Mexico and former business professor at New Mexico State University, has traveled the country speaking with local government boards, at conservative conventions and to church groups. He was at the "cybersymposium" last year held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a key Trump ally who has sought to prove voting machines were somehow manipulated to favor Biden.

Clements' popular social media feed on Telegram frequently weaves pronouncements about democracy with scripture and prayer. It also includes video chats with the like-minded.

In one video from March, Clements chatted with Jim Marchant, a Trump loyalist from Nevada who claims elections have long been rigged. Marchant recently won the Republican primary for secretary of state, Nevada's top elections position. He has been a key organizer of a group of "America First" candidates this year who either deny the outcome of the 2020 presidential election or promote the idea that elections in the U.S. are corrupt.

In the video, Clements and Marchant discuss a "county commission strategy" that involves pressuring local officials to get rid of the "cheat" machines so that all ballots are not only cast by hand but also counted by hand. Election experts say hand-counting of ballots is not only less accurate but extremely labor-intensive, potentially delaying results by weeks if not months. They also say it's unnecessary because voting equipment is tested before and after elections to ensure ballots are read and tallied correctly.

A day earlier, county officials in Nye County, Nevada, had voted to request that the county clerk not use ballot tabulators in the upcoming November election. The clerk is opposed to the move and has decided to retire after the primary. Marchant was among those urging commissioners to make the move.

"It was the first domino to fall to allow us to get back to fair and transparent elections here in the country," Marchant told Clements. "And we're going to do it with many more counties right here in Nevada, and hopefully this will encourage others in other states to do the same thing."

Clements was excited about the development and promised to push counties to do the same in his home state of New Mexico, where he once sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

"Shouldn't the commissioners care about whether I trust the system or not?" Clements told Marchant. "I love how you just cut through all the noise."

This week, Clements is scheduled to appear at an event in Louisiana with Douglas Frank, another Lindell associate who has been traveling the country meeting with state and local officials. In May 2021, Frank met with members of the Ohio Secretary of State's Office offering to scrutinize their voting procedures, boasting he's been working with county officials in 22 states.

"You either come onto our team and we can audit it together and show that there was no malfeasance, or you can oppose us," Frank told agency staff, according to an audio recording. The office did not accept the offer.

For months now, Clements has been pushing Republican-leaning counties in New Mexico to launch partisan reviews of the 2020 election, similar to the much-maligned effort in Arizona coordinated by Republicans in one chamber of the state's legislature. In Otero County, which Trump won by a wide margin, Clements and his wife, Erin, have been conducting an informal and unpaid review of the county's 2020 election procedures.

The result has been a series of hourslong presentations to the county commission about unproven vulnerabilities in vote-tallying machines and patterns in voter registration activity. The Clements, who list Las Cruces as their residence, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Earlier this month, when Otero County commissioners were considering whether to discontinue the use of ballot tabulators, the couple again made a presentation. It prompted a rebuttal from Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes.

"There is a lot of things they have found, that they are saying, that are not true," Holmes said.

Nonetheless, the commissioners — led by Couy Griffin, co-founder of "Cowboys for Trump," who was convicted of entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection — voted to stop using the ballot tabulators before the November election.

Clements was among those urging Otero County commissioners against certification of the June 7 primary results, repeating conspiracy theories about voting equipment that trace back to the days immediately following the 2020 election. Holmes, the clerk, said the primary was conducted without problems.

Clements also went to Torrance County, another conservative stronghold in New Mexico, to urge commissioners to defy authorities and refuse to certify their primary results. During the meeting last Friday, the crowd hurled insults of "traitors" and "cowards" at commissioners before they voted — unanimously — to certify the results.

Election officials and experts have expressed concern that local certification boards in other states that are receptive to conspiracy theories surrounding voting machines might be inspired to follow Otero County's example, wreaking havoc with election results.

Counties in Nevada have until Friday to sign off on the results of the state's June 14 primary. Nye County commissioners, who want to stop using ballot tabulators, are scheduled to meet to consider certification on Friday. They have not said publicly what they plan to do.


Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

Man gets life in prison for killing of Santa Fe prep star —Associated Press

A man convicted of fatally shooting a Santa Fe High School star basketball player after a fight at a house party nearly two years ago has been sentenced to life in prison.

A New Mexico district court judge gave 18-year-old Estevan Montoya the maximum sentence Wednesday for the August 2020 killing of Fedonta "JB" White.

The judge said Montoya will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Montoya was 16 at the time of the fatal shooting.

A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a handgun by an underage person and negligent use of a deadly weapon.

White graduated from high school a year early and was recruited by multiple Division I college basketball programs. He was set to play for the New Mexico Lobos in the 2020-21 season.

Native American leaders push for boarding school commission - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The federal government has a responsibility to Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages and Native Hawaiian communities to fully support and revitalize education, language and cultural practices that prior boarding school policies sought to destroy, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday.

Haaland testified before a U.S. Senate committee that is considering legislation to establish a national commission on truth and healing to address intergenerational trauma stemming from the legacy of Native American boarding schools in the United States.

As the first and only Native American Cabinet secretary, Haaland's voice cracked with emotion and her eyes welled as she addressed the committee.

Haaland, who is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, said the forced assimilation that happened over a century and half through the boarding school initiative was both traumatic and violent. She noted she herself was a product of those policies as her grandparents were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools.

"Federal Indian boarding school policy is a part of America's story that we must tell," Haaland said. "While we cannot change that history, I believe that our nation will benefit from a full understanding of the truth of what took place and a focus on healing the wounds of the past."

Tribal leaders and advocates from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii joined Haaland in voicing their support for a national commission, saying it would offer a path for many to have their personal stories validated.

The dark history of Native American boarding schools — where children were prohibited from speaking their languages and often abused — has been felt deeply across Indian Country and through generations.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support the boarding schools. The goal was to civilize Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Religious and private institutions often received federal funding and were willing partners.

Haaland's agency in May released a first-of-its-kind report that named more than 400 schools the federal government supported to strip Native Americans of their identities. The study has so far identified at least 500 children who died at some of the schools, but that number is expected to reach into the thousands or tens of thousands as research continues.

The department also is planning a yearlong tour to gather stories of boarding school survivors for an oral history collection. Haaland said one of the first stops will be in Oklahoma.

As for the legislation to create a truth and healing commission, it had its first congressional hearing last month. It's sponsored by two Native American U.S. representatives — Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas, who is Ho-Chunk, and Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is Chickasaw.

Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren is leading the effort in the Senate.

The proposed commission would have a broader scope than the Interior's investigation to seek records with subpoena power. It would make recommendations to the federal government within five years of its passage, possible in the U.S. House but more difficult in the Senate.

Work to uncover the truth and create a path for healing would require financial resources in Indian Country, which the federal government has chronically underfunded.

Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine, said it would be difficult to quantify the cost of the cultural damages from the boarding school era. But he said congressional leaders should be having conversations each year as they set funding priorities, to ensure tribal programs are adequately supported.

He said any work by a national commission would inevitably open old wounds.

"It will be a difficult time, and the communities are going to have to be able to support that historical trauma through treatment. Resources are going to be a huge part of that success," he said.

Norma Ryūkō Kawelokū Wong Roshi, a policy official for former Hawaii Gov. John Waiheʻe, said the work by the Interior Department and any future commission should be looked at as steps in a process that will span generations.

"This is not one and done," Wong said. "What took hundreds of years to tear to the point of breaking cannot be repaired, let alone propel us toward a more thriving future over the course of a few studies, reports and hearings. There is work to be done, and it can be fruitful."

ABQ city councilor pulls back support for safe outdoor spacesKUNM News, Jessica Dyer, Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque city councilor is apologizing to her constituents, and rolling back her support for safe outdoor spaces, saying she is now working to fix her mistake.

The project sought to designate certain outdoor areas for unhoused people to set up tents and vehicles legally, and offer basic services like showers and toilets, according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal.

Councilor Brook Bassan initially supported the program when the city council met to update the zoning code, going as far as writing an op-ed in favor of the plan.

After meeting with residents near North Domingo Baca Park, she announced yesterday she plans to introduce legislation to repeal the program, which passed by a narrow 5-4 vote, according to the journal.

Bassan said she has growing worries over the plan’s implementation, and after hearing an outcry of concern from her constituents, she felt she needed to reverse her decision.

Brad Day, a local businessman, and outspoken supporter of and champion for the program, says residents' concerns are unwarranted, that safe outdoor spaces would have rules, security programs, occupancy limits, storage spaces and standards for who can live there.

Albuquerque woman gets long prison term for fatal DWI crash - Associated Press

An Albuquerque woman has been sentenced to 12 years in prison in connection with a fatal car crash in June 2020.

A New Mexico district judge on Tuesday sentenced 42-year-old Bernadette Etsitty, who pleaded guilty in April on a charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol.

Prosecutors said Etsitty had consumed a 12-pack of beer and was driving 66 mph in a 40 mph zone at the time of the head-on crash that killed 18-year-old Roxana Saenz.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, court records show Etsitty has been charged three times for driving while intoxicated including two offenses in 2006.

The newspaper also reported that a third-offense DWI in 2018 for Etsitty was dismissed by a McKinley County magistrate judge in 2019.

Officials announce new plan to address downtown crime - KUNM News, Elise Kaplan, Albuquerque Journal

The city of Albuquerque is asking downtown businesses to contribute to a fund to help provide more and better law enforcement for the area.

Mayor Tim Keller announced the program at a news conference downtown yesterday afternoon, according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal.

As per the newspaper, the plan would have local businesses contribute to a fund that will finance things like more streetlights and more officers, that will focus on DWIs, illegal firearms, and monitoring parking lots and other areas where after parties, and violence occur when the bars let out.

Keller also said Albuquerque Police will be opening a new substation on central between 3rd and 4th by the end of the summer.

Los Alamos county again named healthiest community in U.S. KUNM news, Albuquerque Journal

Los Alamos county has been named the healthiest community in the United States for the third year running.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the northern New Mexico county beat out about 3,000 other communities, which were evaluated based on 89 different health related metrics across 10 categories—including things like overall population health, public safety, mental health, life expectancy, infrastructure and more.

According to the Journal, CVS and U.S. News and World report collaborated on the study, which serves as a tool for elected officials, community members, and health leaders to examine and assess best practices and policies in order to offer their citizens the chance to live long, happy lives.