- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s juvenile justice system is going under the microscope as part of a comprehensive review by a team of judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and others.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil and officials with the state’s child welfare agency launched the task force Thursday with an initial meeting in Albuquerque. More meetings and focus groups are planned over the next several months as the group looks at trends in the state based on the latest data and considers policy changes and possible legislation.

“When we look at the issues that are facing our state and the things that we need to do to get our state where I know we all want it to be, there’s no doubt in my mind as to the role juvenile justice plays,” said Monique Jacobson, head of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

Jacobson said the state has an opportunity to change the trajectory of the young men and women who are in the system by focusing on policies that will lead to better outcomes. She cited rehabilitation rather than unnecessary detention.

Vigil said many changes have already been made in New Mexico but the new data-driven collaboration over the various branches of government marks an unprecedented opportunity.

There are fewer youth in New Mexico’s juvenile justice system now than at any time in the last decade, and the majority of them are being supervised in their own communities, according to state officials.

Figures show that between 2009 and 2016, the population of youth referred to the juvenile justice system shrank by nearly 50 percent and the number of youth placed on probation declined by 55 percent.

However, costs throughout the entire system have increased substantially in recent years. New Mexico spends about $74 million annual on supervision and services for youth in the system.

The state’s past reforms caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The office selected New Mexico and Nevada as the only two states to receive technical assistance for their respective juvenile justice improvement initiatives.

Nationwide, many states have been looking for alternatives that respond to youth crime while improving the outcome for those offenders. However, reducing recidivism rates has been a challenge.

Advocates say California, Arizona and Texas, for example, report that about half of youth who are released from state custody are re-incarcerated within three years of release.

The nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center will work with the task force to analyze New Mexico’s system. Resulting recommendations could be introduced as legislation as early as 2018, advocates said.

Some of the focus will be on the high percentage of youth being committed to custody due to probation violations and whether increased funding for community-based rehabilitation programs is translating to better outcomes.

“If we can reverse the trajectory they’re on, we’ll be decreasing not only the crime rates for now but the crime rates for generations to come,” Jacobson said.

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that Vigil is a justice but not the chief justice.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide