While New Mexicoâ€™s prisons arenâ€™t as overcrowded as they are in
other states, the stateâ€™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 yearâ€™s Prison Reform Task
Force, the problems are often interconnected.
Currently, New Mexicoâ€™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
â€œrevolving doorâ€ 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 â€œformal mediation processâ€ that â€” in the
words of the report â€” 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.