Friday, September 5, 2014

Hybrid Transitional Living = A Safer New Mexico

It’s no secret that New Mexico has few options for offenders when they are released from prison. The great resources we do have are often strained and the waiting list can be a couple pages deep.
We know many of our offenders need a place to transition when they are released from custody. Somewhere they can continue to receive treatment, work on their education or vocation skills, be held accountable, be safe, you name it.

For us at the New Mexico Corrections Department, it’s not enough to say, “Too bad there aren’t more halfway homes or treatment centers.” We have decided that we must do more to help our offenders and our communities.

96% of the people in prison right now are coming home. Currently we have about 200 inmates that are ready to pack up and leave prison, but there is nowhere for them to go. The release process includes a lot of work from our case managers, parole officers and the Parole Board. Other states seem to have figured out a new approach that we believe will be very successful in New Mexico.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us introduce you to the age of Transitional Housing. To understand transitional housing you must first understand the difference between it and a halfway house. A halfway house is a home where an offender lives post release but does not receive programming in the house, but is seen outside. Transitional Living is a home where offenders post release live and receive structured substance abuse and vocational programming in the facility. The offender is still allowed to work in the community and program at night. 

The New Mexico Corrections Department is 100% committed to creating a hybrid transitional living home. Here is how it works. Offenders who are about six months from release would move into one side of the home (let’s say the left). This left side would be staffed with corrections officers and staff to help the inmate prepare for release. The same way we do things now, except for the offender is being housed somewhere with more freedoms and specifically for inmates who are about to rejoin the community. The big day arrives, parole day. The offender would then be transferred to the other side of the home (the right side). This side would be staffed with treatment providers and probation and parole officers. Our Corrections Industries Division would work to find the offender employment in the community and the department would ensure they make it to work during the day. At night, treatment and education classes would be given to continue to help the offender transition back into our neighborhoods.

We know this program works and in states with comparable houses, their recidivism rate averages about 22% -- a big change from New Mexico’s 47%.

While we are running towards the goal, we have to start small. NMCD continues to work with our partners at the state and county levels to create this hybrid model, but we aren’t sitting back and waiting for something to happen; we are making things happen!

Currently renovation is being completed on what’s referred to the Bullock house. It’s a cottage at our Los Lunas Campus where the Men’s Recovery Academy sits. This cottage will soon hold 16 women and a residential advisor. The women will be placed in jobs and have the chance to slowly transition back into their communities. We are working with private partners to make sure we will continue treatment for these women and really prepare them to stay home for good. It’s not the end all goal, but it’s a start.

So here is the million dollar question, we are all in on this goal, will you join us and make New Mexico a better place?