SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Advocates for alternatives to mass incarceration in New Mexico are warning of potential adverse outcomes in a public safety initiative from the governor aimed at reducing crime and violence amid a record-setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque.
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is advocating for a $100 million effort to hire an additional 1,000 new “community-oriented” law enforcement officers statewide and create new standards for pretrial release among people accused of certain crimes who are presumed to be dangerous.
The New Mexico SAFE coalition warned a panel of legislators last Monday that those proposals could increase the number of people held in county jails who are prone to coronavirus contagion and might initiate or exacerbate over-policing of minority communities.
Precise details of the governor’s criminal justice proposals are not yet available, as lawmakers prepare for the start of the annual 2022 legislative session in January. Legislators have outlined a long list of criminal justice proposals that also seek to reduce gun violence through social programs and alternative policing strategies.
Voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that did away with money-based bail for defendants who might languish in prison because they are poor. The statewide vote cleared the way for judges to deny bail before trial for the most high-risk, dangerous defendants — though many prosecutors voice frustrations with the evaluation system.
Kim Chavez Cook, an appellate attorney with the state Office of the Public Defender, urged legislators to be wary of any proposed “rebuttable presumption” of dangerousness for people charged with certain crimes.
She warned that a rollback of bail reforms might flout the state constitution — and could put more people behind bars before conviction at high-turnover jails that are susceptible to COVID-19.
“It’s a tool — pretrial detention — that we want to use sparingly and only when necessary,” Chavez Cook said.
On proposals to vastly expand police forces, Barron Jones of the ACLU cautioned legislators to avoid any regression to policing practices that lead to excessive force, or that might disproportionately target minority communities.
Albuquerque’s police force is in the midst of sweeping reforms aimed at reining in police brutality with guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and court oversight, under a consent decree initiated in 2014.
Jones commended a pilot program in Albuquerque that leaves police out of some emergency responses to mental health emergencies.
“Figure out ways to set up law enforcement for success and reduce some of those roles,” Jones said.
The New Mexico SAFE coalition includes groups ranging from Criminal Defense Lawyers to the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops and the NAACP.