New Mexico Missed the Memo on Criminal Justice Reform

There was an interesting editorial in the New York Times today about the broken criminal justice system.

It was not interesting so much for the recognition of the problem and the fact that there apparently is a bi-partisan effort to study the longstanding problems and to provide solutions. It is far more interesting when viewed in terms of what is happening in New Mexico.

It is well accepted that U.S. prisons are brimming with non-violent offenders, the great majority of whom are drug offenders. It is also well recognized that the costs of housing theses inmates is extremely expensive.

In fact, California has put forth a bill to release thousands of prisoners due to the financial strain that it is putting on the state. New Mexico is facing similar pressures.

None of this new and because everyone has heard it time and time again, most have become desensitized to the issues. This is particularly so in New Mexico and apparently acutely so in Albuquerque where the local press seems on a crusade to increase the incarceration rates for everything from first time DWI/DUI to domestic violence to drug offenses to immigration offenses to apparently every crime on the books.

There seems to be a law and order movement in Albuquerque and New Mexico generally while much of the rest of the country is seeking less inhumane and oh yes, less expensive solutions to society‘s woes.

While California is releasing prisoners, Albuquerque Police in particular continue to arrest drivers for DWI/DUI even though they are under the legal limit of .08. They continue to arrest drivers for sleeping intoxicated in their vehicles.

They continue to arrest individuals, many of whom are young, for minor possession of marijuana. They continue to arrest people for domestic violence when they come to the scene even when the alleged victim explains there was no domestic violence.

And when they bring each of these fundamentally unjust charges, the prosecutors prosecute with little discretion to drop the charges despite the lack of any evidence, or evidence directly contrary to the charges. The prosecutors on the front lines are driven to prosecute by their bosses, who in turn are driven by politics and funding.

And judging by the recent articles and letters to editor, the public wants more it seems. This in turns drives the District Attorneys throughout New Mexico to dig in and push these cases toward trial. After all, District Attorneys are elected officials and they must listen to the masses.

These cases have little to do with justice or the protection of society. To the contrary, as prosecutors are forced to push these cases toward trial by their bosses, the media, the new law and order Governor, and ill advised voters, they are pushing New Mexico toward bankruptcy.

And the public gleefully cheers them on while at the same time screaming for lower taxes, smaller government, less government intrusion, greater individual rights, and on and on and on.


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