Editor's Note: This is the Part 12 of a multi-article series on the Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, held at Western New Mexico University on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Community groups presented their needs and concerns to New Mexico Reps. Dianne Hamilton and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales.
The Restorative Justice Community Center of Southwest New Mexico had four representatives on hand to talk about the group's needs.
Stéphane Luchini said he would talk about the advanced restorative justice activities, what the group has done and new activities.
"We are holding people accountable face-to-face, the victim with the offender," Luchini said. "Restorative Justice provides a look at the social return to prevent crime. We will show you how we make the financing viable. It's a huge cost to the Sheriff and the Detention Center, about half the costs of the county. We recognize the needs of victims to make the offender accountable."
He said the group has three priority areas. It is seeking a stable and viable program model, which is replicable, and using the best and promising practices. It is developing financial and social return on investment. The victim is the center part of the program, including school-based restorative justice practices and restorative re-entry from the detention center.
Mary Lynne Newell, district attorney, said the criminal justice system is not user-friendly. "The restorative justice approach is about the victim needing closure and a feeling of security. Locking people up is not the solution. We need to build empathy in offenders and give victims confidence in law enforcement."
Luchini said the costs and benefit review showed $880 per offender, which gives a benefit to the taxpayer, as opposed the $4,600 per adult offender and $3,300 per juvenile defender for incarceration.
"We don't have a specific request for school-based restorative justice services," Luchini said.
Esther Jamison, program manager, said the purpose of the program is to help inmates develop empathy.
Joe Andazola, interim jail administrator, said he wants to make inmates become positive parts of the community. "We have too many who keep coming back. We need options other than incarceration. We need re-entry programs to help them get back on their feet."
Hamilton said the program sounded exciting. "How far have you gotten and do you have talking circles going?"
Luchini said the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office has employees and volunteers doing circles. "It seems to be working with the women. We have not done re-entry programs due to resources."
"Is it more important in adults or juveniles?" Hamilton asked.
"We are not doing just rehabilitation," Luchini said. "We want to consider the victims. We generally start with juveniles."
Martinez asked if there is a mechanism to measure success.
"I've been funding juvenile programs," Newell said, "but on such a shoestring that we are not getting statistics on recidivism. We know the kids, and most are not coming back. Every place I've known that has used restorative justice programs, it has helped recidivism. We are at 35 percent recidivism right now. I will not be able to fund the program next year. "
Martinez said, looking at reducing costs, about $2 million for the jail, maybe the savings can be shifted to this program.
Andazola said in the jail, he is working with the adult inmates. "We have a GED program with Literacy Link-Leamos providing services. We also have a new program for re-entry into the community that we are building from the ground up. If you talk to the inmates, they want to improve, but when they get out, they have no means to get on their feet, so they go back to what they know."
"Gilbert (Garcia, deputy jail administrator) has said the victim advocate program was good," Andazola continued. "We have no tangible results, but we have seen progress with women.
"The program was taken seriously," he said. "We use services already in Grant County, but inmates are going all over the state and even other states, so it's hard for them to get such services."
"In Hawaii, the program has been so successful, that they are changing legislation," Jamison said."
Morales asked the program members to go back to the 2008 language on bill No. 258 and "maybe change the language. What kind of appropriation are you looking for?"
Luchini said the appropriation would go to the 6th Judicial District. "In 2009, it was $276,000."
Newell pointed out the amount did not include the district's expenditures. "Last year, we received $35,000 for a small number of juveniles. We also need to get to young adults. In a couple of cases, to extended families."
She said it would be good to have a piece for the jails and a piece through the courts. "That would give us an idea of how well it works, and you would get a good bang for the buck for down the road. We're incarcerating 25 percent to 35 percent in the county. We might as well lock them up in kindergarten. Drug Court works because the kids get constant direction."
The next article will cover the Volunteer Fire Department and Forgotten Veterans' Memorial requests.