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Efforts to reform criminal justice come as violent crime increases

The Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee met on the first of three planned days of discussions of crime and justice
Alice Fordham
The Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee met on the first of three planned days of discussions of crime and justice

State lawmakers discussed parallel efforts to make the criminal justice system fairer and combat rising rates of violent crime today at an meeting of the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee in Santa Fe.

Deputy director of program evaluation with the Legislative Finance Committee Jon Courtney analyzed crime data from several years. “A number of communities in New Mexico are experiencing this spike in violent crime,” he said.

The data echoed a Legislative Finance Committee meeting with lawmakers last week, which heard that the number of violent crimes rose about 32% from 2014 to 2020 while arrests fell.

Committee co-chair Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Doña Ana County, said constituents are worried. “I think we all recognize crime is probably the preeminent issue on New Mexicans’ minds,” he said.

Ellen Rabin, a fiscal analyst from the Legislative Finance Committee, did caution that the FBI’s data even from calendar year 2021 will not be released until September. She also pointed out that only about 30% of the state’s police departments are providing crime reports to the Department of Public Safety as they are meant to.

But Kim Chavez Cook, appellate defender at the state Office of the Public Defender, told the committee she was seeing more young people involved in violent crime.

“They are young kids with using hard drugs and who are potentially facing a lot of the downstream side effects of the pandemic: economic strife, schools being closed, you know, being cut off from their social network,” she said.

She added some local city council initiatives were having success in diverting young people, and avoiding incarceration.

The committee also heard from administrators of an expanding statewide pretrial program, designed to maximize the number of people who are out of detention before trials, maximize the number of people attending trial, and maximize public safety.

Gilbert Jaramillo, pretrial data analyst for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said in a presentation that between October last year and June this year, only 5% of people being supervised before their trial were charged with a violent crime.

This reporting was made possible by the WK Kellogg foundation and KUNM listeners

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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