Throw a rock in any direction in this state and you will hit someone who says the same phrase that we all use when describing crime in New Mexico, “the jails here have a revolving door.”
It seems that through the lens of revisionist history many of us just assume this is how things have always been, or that crime has just gotten worse for “some” reason, or the commonly touted phrase, “well everywhere has their problems.”
Every place does have their problems, but the catalyst for New Mexico was a legal decision made in 2016. The recidivism rate for New Mexico hovers around 49%, and for neighboring states, Arizona – 40%, Colorado 50%, Oklahoma – 25%, and Texas – 21%.
New Mexicans voted for a constitutional amendment in 2016 that largely abolished cash bail. On its face this seemed like an equitable decision that would keep low-level offenders from remaining incarcerated until trial simply because they could not afford bond.
The law was presented as a caring alternative designed to help reform the criminal justice system in New Mexico; however, it has ultimately shown to be a danger to the public, as it impedes judges who have to legally articulate how an individual is a danger to the public while satisfying the legal threshold for pre-trial detention.
Four recent examples come to mind where individuals involved in violent offenses were released from custody because their offenses could not be legally articulated to meet the threshold of pre-trial detention:
- Off-duty Cuba officer charged in alleged DWI crash to remain free before trial
- DA says man accused of murder was recently allowed to remain out of jail
- Troubled Albuquerque teen locked up again after violating probation
- Judge orders rape suspect to jail following new allegations
All of these instances involve violent offenders who anecdotally could be articulated as a danger to the public at large; however, under the letter of the law as defined in the 2016 constitutional amendment they did not meet the legal threshold for pre-trial detention. It is beyond time to end the revolving door of criminality that exists in New Mexico.
One might ask themselves, “how”? That is a fair question considering we have collectively grown to accept the decision that was made in 2016. Considering this is a constitutional amendment, it will require a member of the state legislature to propose a bill to overturn the amendment. None of this is simple, but it should be an apolitical issue.
Every individual regardless of their partisan persuasion should be imploring their current representation and future candidates alike to work and run on this one issue alone. There is ample time to have debate about what reform may look like, and how offenders should be handled or categorized in the future; however, the one aspect that is fundamentally clear is that the system implemented in 2016 has caused more detriment than good.
If we as a collective body of New Mexicans genuinely want to do something about the revolving door of criminality in our state, than this must be the single issue that law makers hear in a unified voice from all of the electorate.