More people stuck in NM prisons beyond their release dates in recent months, LFC report shows

Errors in Corrections Department reporting make long-term measurements ‘effectively useless,’ committee writes

By: - June 23, 2022 4:00 am

A New Mexico Department of Corrections official walks toward the front entrance of the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants in November 2021. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source New Mexico)

A growing number of New Mexicans incarcerated in state prisons are being held beyond their official release date because there are not enough resources outside the walls to meet their mental health needs.

The problem is nothing new, but the number of incarcerated New Mexicans still sitting in cells under so-called “in-house parole” has increased by more than one-third over the past few months, according to analysts with the Program Evaluation Unit, part of the Legislative Finance Committee.

“There are instances in which an inmate in our custody has an approved parole plan that includes moving toward a treatment bed on the outside,” a New Mexico Corrections Department official told KUNM in 2015. “If there is no bed available at that time, then that person in our custody will be waiting for a bed in our prison facilities.”

In some cases, people’s parole hearings got scratched off the docket of the state parole board because prison officials don’t always send the paperwork to the board, Prison Legal News found in 2018.

And according to Searchlight New Mexico, some people locked up beyond their parole dates have paid to jump to the front of the waiting list for a halfway house, while people without the ability to come up with the money remained behind bars.

The number of people in this situation appears to have increased from an estimated average of 61 between September and November to an average of 70 between December and January, according to a quarterly performance report published by the LFC on June 6.

The number increased further — from 75 in mid-April, to 95 on May 16, and to 101 on May 26, the LFC wrote. That would bring the quarterly average to 90 people held in prisons and jails beyond their release dates.

This increase is particularly notable, the LFC wrote, because the state’s Corrections Department previously cut the number of in-house parolees by almost half between 2020 and 2021.

Even though the yearly average is likely to be lower than last year, the LFC wrote, “this upward trend is concerning.”

What’s more, the Corrections Department has not been reporting results the way it is required to by the LFC and the state Department of Finance and Administration, the LFC wrote in the latest quarterly report.

In fact, the new method of calculation makes the number seem lower.

“NMCD’s reporting on release-eligible inmates imprisoned past their release dates (those serving ‘in-house parole’) continues to not comply with guidance from DFA and LFC,” the LFC wrote.

Previously, the Corrections Department was taking the number of people serving in-house parole and dividing that number by the total number of people who were eligible for release. 

But the Corrections Department changed the way they calculated the measure in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021. They started reporting the number of people on in-house parole divided by the total prison population. This had the effect of making the measure appear much smaller than it actually is.

The LFC wrote that the Corrections Department’s new way of calculating the measure was wrong. Prison officials fixed the problem, LFC wrote, “but did not provide corrected historical reports.”

“In its first report for FY21, NMCD clarified that several of its most significant measures had been calculated incorrectly for years and revised these calculations,” the LFC wrote. “Unfortunately, failure to provide historic data for the department’s overall three-year recidivism rate and measures related to release-eligible inmates and inmate education render these long-term measures effectively useless, as there is nothing to compare them to.”

The LFC wrote that its own analysts and those from DFA believe the Corrections Department’s original way of calculating the measure is correct, “but NMCD has not revised its reports for FY21 or FY22 despite explicit guidance to do so.”

Legislative analysts have flagged the issue in every quarterly report since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2021, but it remains a problem to this day.

This is not the only area where legislative analysts have found problems in reports they receive from the state’s prison administrators. Recidivism looks like its improving, but that can’t really be determined fully, the LFC wrote.

According to the committee, errors in reporting past and present “create difficulties in analyzing some areas of NMCD’s performance.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.