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Task Force Recommends Against Merging NM Prisons And Jails

A task force is recommending county jails like Santa Fe's remain separated from the state institutions.
Kevin Meerschaert
A task force is recommending county jails like Santa Fe's remain separated from the state institutions.

A task force is recommending against New Mexico consolidating its jails and prisons under one system, but says changes need to be made in collaboration and employee retention.

The task force was created through a Memorial passed last session to evaluate the costs, benefits and feasibility of merging the state prisons and county jails.
It discussed the possibilities of unification and what challenges need to be addressed in New Mexico’s corrections system.

While recommending against consolidation, the task force says there needs to be better communication between the state and counties and more collaboration.
It also is recommending more staff and workforce development.  

New Mexico Counties General Counsel Grace Phillips told the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee more funding for corrections is needed from the legislature. 

“You also have the ability to increase the RISE funding that goes to the human services department. That isn’t just pass-through money. HSD provides technical assistance, support and oversight of those funded programs and they really are making a difference in our detention facilities,” she said.        

Lawmakers seemed pleased with the recommendations.

Santa Fe Senator Nancy Rodriguez agrees the prisons and jails shouldn’t be combined and the focus needs to be on preventing violence in the facilities and working on programs to get those incarcerated the mental and behavioral health treatments many of them need.

“I believe it’s those big issues like that affect the whole family, not just the person who offended or violated the law but the entire family and the community as a whole,” she said. “We need to do so much more as a whole in that area so we can finally get to the root of the problem. That is one of the biggest problems we have.”

The task force is also recommending the state work to lower the high turnover and staff shortage rates in the New Mexico jails and prisons including a Return to Work policy for retirees similar to what’s being done for teachers and police officers.                          

Kevin Meerschaert comes to Santa Fe from Jacksonville, Florida where he spent the past 20 years covering politics, government and pretty much everything else.