Commentary

We deserve better than outdated posturing about crime

Legislators fail to engage evidence-based solutions that would make the state safer for everyone

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

New Mexico’s 2022 legislative session revealed a troubling absence of the political will to pass meaningful public safety legislation in the Roundhouse. 

Some elected officials relied on false and harmful rhetoric when it came to addressing public safety. Legislative efforts to address crime in New Mexico this year fell far short of measures that decades of research show actually confront the root causes of crime in our state. 

With the 2022 elections upon us, they must all resist the urge to play on fear and parrot lines supporting wasteful and harmful policies.

New Mexico could be investing in programs to address substance abuse, provide job opportunities in historically underserved communities and make it easier for people trying to rebuild their lives after a criminal conviction to successfully re-enter society.

Legislators had a chance to do just that through measures that would match court fines and fees with an individual’s ability to pay to break the vicious cycle of poverty, debt and desperation that can lead to crime. Other legislation would’ve given people released from prison a chance to successfully and fully re-enter society, including by automatically restoring their right to vote.

Those bills, however, died from a lack of time and political will in the Roundhouse. 

Instead, our legislators reached for costly, antiquated and failed policies focused on throwing as many people as possible in jail for as long as possible. For example, an effort to roll back bail reform and impose pretrial detention would have risked holding innocent people in jail and have very little impact on public safety. That bill thankfully failed when it was confronted with facts and evidence. 

But not all harmful bills were stopped.

Legislators created new additions to the criminal code for actions largely already covered by existing laws, inflating our bloated criminal legal system. Likewise, harsher penalties won’t deter crime or help victims, and will instead only make rehabilitation and re-entry harder — at taxpayers’ expense. 

Evidence has shown that the harsh consequences of the criminal legal system drive economic insecurity and substance abuse, leading only to more crime and more destabilizing criminal legal consequences. If we are going to build truly safe communities, we cannot continue in this way. 

We deserve legislation that actually addresses the root causes of crime and works to make us and our families safer in the long term through creative and compassionate interventions.

With the nationwide increase in crime, New Mexicans deserve better than outdated ideas that we know won’t make us safer. And with the reality of limited resources, we cannot afford to keep throwing money at policies that will not solve the problem. 

We demand better from our legislators and our candidates. With the 2022 elections upon us, they must all resist the urge to play on fear and parrot lines supporting wasteful and harmful policies. 

New Mexicans need real, evidence-based solutions that build a safer, more equitable New Mexico for us all, and elected officials who have the courage to get us there. 

Our lives and futures depend on it. We cannot accept anything less.

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Barron Jones, ACLU-NM
Barron Jones, ACLU-NM

Barron Jones joined the ACLU of New Mexico in January 2018 after spending several years working as a journalist for the Rio Grande Sun in Española where he covered stories related to government accountability and education. He also has extensive experience writing about issues of domestic violence, poverty, and addiction, especially as they relate to the pressing need for criminal justice reform.

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Denali Wilson, ACLU-NM
Denali Wilson, ACLU-NM

Denali Wilson is a staff attorney working to end excessive and extreme youth sentencing practices in New Mexico. She serves youth charged in adult courts in the state by litigating unconstitutional sentences, ensuring fair and constitutional parole hearings, and fighting for fair and age-appropriate sentencing reform.

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