Corrections handling 1 in 35

-A A +A
By Ralph Damiani

The Assosicated Press had disturbing story this week. It stated that 3 percent of our fellow residents are part of the corrections system.

That is scary.

New Mexico has seen a steady increase in people on probation and parole in recent years, reflecting a national trend, according to a report.

The Pew Center on the States says that nationwide, the number of people on probation or parole nearly doubled to more than 5 million between 1982 and 2007.

The New Mexico Department of Corrections reported 19,600 people on probation and parole in fiscal year 2008 and 6,300 people in six public and four privately contracted prisons. It said the number of people entering prison in fiscal year 2008 declined, and the total number of inmates dropped by 3 percent.

However, the number of people on probation and parole grew more than 3 percent between 1998 and 2007, the department said.

New Mexico is looking more toward probation and community programs rather than prison, Gail Oliver, deputy secretary for prisoner re-entry and prison reform. Even most people sent to prison will spend part of their sentence on parole, she said.

“We all have the mentality these are people who have done wrong and should be locked up. But some of the issues offenders have are societal issues,” Oliver told the AP. “We need to do a better job on case management, on understanding who these people are” to help them return to society.

That won’t be easy.

“It is intensive case management because it is really getting to know the offenders, what were the reasons they ended up on probation and parole, what do they need to be successful long-term,” Oliver said.

For every dollar New Mexico spent on prisons in fiscal year 2008, it spent 11 cents on probation and parole, the Pew Center said. The $277 million the state spent on corrections totaled 4.6 percent of general fund spending that year, the report said.

The financial cost is only part of the picture, Oliver said.

There’s the cost of inmates being away from their families, not being employed and not getting in-depth treatment for problems – “all of those things you can do in a community setting as opposed to being in prison,” she said.

Really? How about not doing the crime in the first place?

Many offenders have drug and alcohol problems or need education or vocational training, Oliver said.

“If they can work on those issues while under probation and parole but still in the community, they have a much better result,” she said.

Starting July 1, the department will put together a Transition Accountability Plan for every offender, identifying specific areas for help.

The same day, it will expand a program called Compas to people already behind bars. The risk and needs assessment, now used for offenders entering diagnostic centers, looks at barriers facing each offender – everything from drug and alcohol addiction to family problems to criminal thinking – and comes up with a plan based on that assessment.

“You’re going to know who these people are and what kind of services they need,” Oliver said.

Including jail and prison inmates, the total population of the U.S. corrections system now exceeds 7.3 million, the Pew Center said.

According to the center, 39 percent of New Mexico’s correctional population was in prison or jail in 2007, compared to 36 percent in 1982. The state ranked 17th in that category in 2007 and 16th in 1982.

The Pew Center recommends strengthening community corrections by using intervention programs on research into what works to reduce recidivism and advances in supervision such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests.

It also recommends incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed and imposing swift sanctions on offenders who break the rules of their release.

All of this sounds good. But where, oh where, are the days when a person is responsible for what they do?

Support Empty Bowls

The Self Help Empty Bowls fund-raiser is being held Saturday at the Betty Ehart Center. There is a full story on Page B1 in today’s Monitor.

This is a very worthwhile program and a great fund raiser.

Attend, eat, have fun and help a good organization continue its work in these hard times.