By Associated Press
SANTA FE – New Mexico state lawmakers began setting a course this week for criminal justice reform during at a daylong forum that explored strategies to reduce crime without putting more people in jail.
Second-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office at the end of the year after a prolonged standoff with lawmakers on major issues of crime and punishment. She pushed unsuccessfully to reinstate the death penalty and was critical of the state’s shift away from money bail to ensure people are not jailed only because they cannot afford to post a bond.
Legislators who specialize in public safety and criminal justice issues said they hope a new governor will provide opportunities to experiment with new approaches that have worked in other states on a range of issues, from reducing prison recidivism to better integrating people with criminal histories into society.
Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque said Tuesday it is an opportune time to take on new initiatives like expanding diversion programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration.
“This is going to require us as a Legislature and the upcoming administration – we’re going to have to step out a little bit, we’re going to have to be willing to take some chances,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
Democratic Sen. Bill O’Neill said he hopes to revive vetoed legislation next year that would remove the criminal history question from initial job applications in the private sector. Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey said she is concerned about a growing female prison population in New Mexico.
The discussions Tuesday were moderated by the Council of State Governments Justice Center that distributes research on justice-reform initiatives and provides training and assistance to local and state agencies.