N.M. Legislature passes Second Chance Bill

New Mexico becomes 27th state to abolish juvenile life without parole

By: - March 14, 2023 4:05 am

Many members of the New Mexico House had seen the Second Chance Bill before, and many had the opportunity during the session to meet people in the community impacted by excessive and extreme sentencing practices, said House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Gail Chasey. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)


Saturday March 18, 10:25 a.m.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Second Chance Bill into law, her office announced Friday evening.

Whether or not New Mexicans serving long adult sentences in prison for crimes they committed as children will get a chance at regaining their freedom will depend on the state’s governor.

The New Mexico House of Representatives passed the Second Chance Bill, sending it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The House voted 34-25 after three hours of debate extending from Sunday night into Monday morning.

House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Gail Chasey told lawmakers the bill would bring New Mexico in line with best practices used nationwide, constitutional standards, and in line with what every person — especially parents — know: “children are works in progress.”

“We need sentencing laws that leave room for their potential to experience positive transformations,” said Chasey (D-Albuquerque), who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque).

ProPublica reports the governor “has indicated that she will likely sign the legislation, if it is passed, by early April.”

However, Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the governor, said on Monday evening that she is “still evaluating” Senate Bill 64.

“It is critical that the right balance is struck between the rights of victims and their families and the chance for youthful violent offenders to be rehabilitated,” Hayden said. “To that end, we continue to have conversations with victims and their advocates as well as criminal justice advocates, which have been ongoing since last year.”

Chasey said the bill’s sponsors worked during the interim to “address concerns of diverse stakeholders,” and made bipartisan modifications to the bill to address the concerns of victims and victim’s rights advocates. That’s why it has a tiered sentencing review system, which reflects an effort to account for heightened consequences in extreme cases, she said.

The vote in the House means second chances for loved ones who have grown up in prison is now in sight, the New Mexico Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth said in a written statement on Monday afternoon.

The Coalition has worked with national advocacy groups including the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

FAMM Vice President of Policy Molly Gill on Monday morning applauded the House and Senate for passing the bill and urged Lujan Grisham to sign it into law.

“New Mexico isn’t just the Land of Enchantment. It’s the Land of Second Chances,” Gill said. “The days of New Mexico locking up young people and throwing away the key need to end. New Mexicans can change, and this law will create the opportunity for a second chance when they do.”

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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.