While New Mexico’s prisons aren’t as overcrowded as they are in other states, the state’s system still grapples with a host of issues, including: recidivism, or the number of offenders who return to lockup within 36 months after their release; offender drug use; and the difficulty offenders face in finding gainful employment when they return to society.

According to a report issued by the last year’s Prison Reform Task Force, the problems are often interconnected.

Currently, New Mexico’s 47 percent recidivism rate is lower than the national average of 52 percent, according to the New Mexico Sentencing Commission.

But at nearly half, that rate has prompted the governor and others to acknowledge the importance of slowing down what some call the “revolving door” of offenders who wind up back behind bars....

Beyond charter schools and improved educational programs, the report also suggested expanding a pilot project of a concept well known to the Navajo Nation called restorative justice panels.

Restorative justice is a “formal mediation process” that — in the words of the report — gives the offender the opportunity to learn about the consequences of his or her actions and sets the stage to engage the offender in some form of restitution, be it community service, financial compensation or direct service to the victim.

One study in Vermont that tracked 10,000 ex-prisoners over eight years to compare the results of restorative justice versus traditional probation, found a 23 percent lower recidivism rate among those enrolled in the restorative justice programs.

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