Crime is out of control in New Mexico. Property crimes in Albuquerque are the
highest in the nation and violent crimes are increasing at an alarming rate. Crime,
particularly related to drug abuse, is rampant in communities throughout the state.
It seems like every night brings news of some horrible crime in our communities.
But, ironically, we know how to effectively fight this problem and we have the ability
to fix it. The question is whether, in this next legislative session, we have the will to
Over the past several months I have talked to persons involved in every part of the
criminal justice/public safety community – across the political spectrum. There is a
consensus on how to solve the problem- address the entire criminal justice system,
from early childhood intervention, to law enforcement, to prosecution and defense,
to courts and corrections, and to behavioral health. Simply adding more police
officers and prosecutors and increasing criminal penalties will not solve the
For example, corrections, although rarely talked about, is suffering under an
incredible strain. At the Sandoval County Detention Center, where almost 500
dangerous prisoners are kept, the starting salary for corrections officers is
$13.25/hour. Not surprisingly, they are having a problem both hiring and keeping
officers. Even the jail itself is in very poor condition. We will need substantial
resources just to make it secure. These substandard jails exist all over the state.
But the biggest and most challenging problem is our mental health care system and
lack of substance abuse treatment facilities. Our behavioral health care system has
been decimated. People with, or at risk for, mental illness and substance abuse often
have nowhere to go. As a result, MDC (the jail on the west side of Albuquerque) is
now the largest provider of mental health therapy in the state. Once the inmate is
released both the individual and the community are now at risk.
The citizens of New Mexico need more and better paid police officers, prosecutors,
public defenders, judges, court staff, corrections officers, pre-trial service providers,
and early childhood intervention, particularly at schools, and at behavioral health
and substance abuse treatment centers.
All of this costs money, but we have the money. There is over $20 billion in the
state’s permanent funds (money the state receives from royalties, fees and sales).
Using only one-half percent of those funds annually and without reducing the
money in those funds, $100 million each year will be available to establish a
criminal justice and public safety fund to significantly reduce crime in New Mexico.
This is the right thing to do. For example, what if a family has a large amount of
money in savings. The parents are saving this money for their future grandchildren.
But their kids are starving, not safe, and the house is falling down. Of course, parents
would willingly spend some of the interest on this money to solve the problem in
front of them.
If public safety is truly a priority for our communities – which it should be – then
our budget needs to reflect that reality. Crime affects everything – the safety of our
citizens, the reputation of our state and economic development. The permanent
funds are for our future generations. However, in failing to address this crisis now,
we are already affecting future generations by allowing crime to gain a devastating
foothold and by permitting the continued downward spiral of our economy.
It is time to solve this problem. The challenge is to spend the public’s money wisely
and efficiently. Through audits and constant monitoring this could be done. It is a
challenge that we should be up to. Let’s do this. Ask your legislators to support this
concept or come up with another solution.
House District 23
Categories: Featured Stories
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