Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Letter from the Secretary


The 2016 Legislative Session has arrived. This is one in a series of posts from the staff of the New Mexico Corrections Department. We intend to send a daily update to all our legislators with key points, facts, figures, personal stories describing life here at NMCD.

Dear Members of the Legislature:
This session, as part of our daily emails, you will receive the answers to commonly asked questions regarding the State of New Mexico Corrections Department. We want to inform you of our legislative priorities and goals and ask for your help in meeting them. These FAQ’s are available in PDF format on our website at www.cd.nm.gov.

funding needs
Our legislative priorities this year include receiving adequate funding for our budgetary needs for the remainder of FY16, and for FY17.

Staffing Crisis
The Corrections Department is at breaking point. Based on current rates for officer compensation, the Corrections Department cannot adequately compete in the current job market, losing almost every officer it recruits within thirty-six (36) months. Consequently, the average correctional officer in our prisons works sixty-four (64) hours a week. The states Probation and Parole Division is currently operating at a vacancy rate of 20%. On the other hand, the probation/parole population has risen by 521 offenders over the last quarter, resulting in a total population of 17,317 offenders. As a result, the average standard case load is currently 110 per officer, which is up seven over the last quarter.

These peace officers put their lives on the line every single day, working within some of the most dangerous and negative environments and circumstances a man or woman could choose to work within our country. As the department has significantly decreased its use of segregation, increased congregative movement and social interactions for inmates, and increased the delivery of educational/vocational programming, although important and appropriate, it has also simultaneously has increased risk within our prisons. With increased risk for both inmates and staff, our correctional officers are the first responders for inmates in need. On the other hand, there are no first responders for the correctional officer. When an officer is assaulted inside a facility, there is no 911.
Perhaps even more importantly, the daily effectiveness of our state’s prisons is dependent upon precise and repeated attention to detail when line officers carry out their responsibilities, particularly security posts and rounds carried out within our states prisons, twenty-four hours a day, and seven days a week.  Fatigue and low staff morale, resulting from significant amounts and mandatory overtime cause correctional officers who are on duty to not be at their best performance. Working mandatory overtime can cause correctional officers to experience sleep deprivation. Fatigue from long shifts can reduce attention to detail and affect critical thinking and performance.

Additionally, when correctional officer staffing remains so dramatically and consistently below minimal levels, normal activities such as contraband searches, training, offender programming, and other necessary activities, such as inmate recreation and visitation designed to manage inmate conduct, can't be conducted.
With officer staffing vacancies at a critical level, it is our aim to fill vacant posts, and increase compensation for new and veteran officers.  It is imperative that, for the security of each officer, and for the body of inmates in our custody, that we increase and retain staff in our prison facilities. The men and women officers of the NMCD are under-paid, underappreciated, and our current vacancy rates put them at the risk of potential harm. We can no longer continue the status quo. We ask that you support the State Personnel Office request to increase compensation to Correctional Officers.

Our FY17 Operating Budget Request focuses on funding for Inmate Growth, Hepatitis C Treatment, and our Security Threat Intelligence Unit.
Inmate Growth

According to the New Mexico Sentencing Commission Prison Population Forecast published in July of 2015, NMCD will experience growth of 1.2% in the male and 15.6% in the female population in FY17 over FY15. NMCD will be at 98% capacity by July of 2016. In your deliberations this session, we also respectfully ask that you consider that the department has been underfunded for two consecutive years regarding the forecasts of this independent research and has consequently operated in a fiscal deficit.

Hepatitis C Treatment
Accepting wholly its mission to better prepare inmates for their imminent return to New Mexico’s neighborhoods, the department includes restoration of health, and access to healthcare, as managing objectives for its work. There are approximately 3,000 inmates with Hepatitis C; roughly half of the inmate population. NMCD projects that150 inmates will receive treatment in FY17. New oral treatment reports fewer side effects and, in certain cases, a 90% - 98% cure rate of patients. Different genomes require differing treatments and drugs. Costs vary dramatically from drug to drug. For example, those with Genotype 3A could be treated for 24 weeks at a cost of $288,000 per person. Those with Genotype 1 could be treated for 12 weeks at a cost of (approximately) $69,000 per person, etc, using the drug commonly known as Harvoni.

Due to the ambiguity of both the inmate growth projections provided by the NM Sentencing Commission and the cost to treat Hepatitis C, which varies depending on type, the Department has requested a supplemental appropriation for this purpose in FY16.

Security Threat Intelligence Unit (STIU)
Fundamental to our work to reduce the likelihood of re-offending when inmates complete their prison sentences, is to have safe, pro-social prisons, characterized by accountability. In the re-design of its operations, the Corrections Department has sought to create a prison experience that is founded on two important principles. First, when an inmate is sentenced to a New Mexico prison, he/she must understand the importance of becoming accountable for their crimes and the impact of their choices upon others. Second, our prison operations must be designed and driven by the reality that most offenders sentenced to prison possess to ability to grow more accountable from their circumstances. As NMCD inmates experience more congregate movement within the prisons, the STIU Unit becomes even more crucial to increasing risk mitigation. The purpose of the expansion is to increase intelligence capabilities inside the prison to reduce assaults on inmates and staff, reduce contraband introduced into the facilities, and to ensure fugitive absconder compliance. 

Legislation

Absconding as a 4th Degree Felony
NMCD is introducing a bill that both defines and makes absconding a 4th degree felony. Absconding from parole or probation generally means that the offender essentially evades any and all conditions of supervision. Typically, the offender moves to another location unknown to the Probation and Parole Division in order to try to avoid detection and all supervision conditions. At this point, there is no criminal penalty for absconding. The case of Andrew Romero, who is accused of shooting and killing Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner in 2015 after he had absconded from probation supervision, underscores the dangers that absconders can pose to the community.

The Department currently has approximately 1,700 absconders, but only 12 investigators available to attempt to locate and apprehend these offenders. Many absconders are often released by judges, right back to supervision with little or no prison time, only to abscond again. A criminal penalty would likely deter some offenders from absconding and ultimately lower the number of absconders over time, to the benefit of public safety.

In its efforts to improve its public safety outcomes through redesign of its operations, the Corrections Department recognizes the most recent and relevant social science relating to risk for both re-offending and future violence. Social researchers recognize and have reported a correlation between disobedience to and disregard of court orders with increased risk for both. Consequently, the Corrections Department must also recognize and promote a foundational principle of accountability in its work. In a more balanced approach to carrying out its public safety responsibilities, the department must also emphasize the return of offenders who disregard and violate court ordered supervision. 

focus areas

In addition to all of the above, we have prioritized the following areas of focus:

-  Continued reduction in the use of segregation as a management tool;

-  Suppression and elimination of the negative and violent effects of prison gangs within our prisons;

-  Recidivism reduction through the integration of evidence based programming and operations;

- Gender-specific programming for female inmates sentenced to New Mexico prisons, and;

- Continued focus upon reducing the number of release eligible inmates (REIs) through expansion of our community-based corrections, treatment, and transitional living infrastructure.
To better support you during this year’s legislative session, we will email daily blog posts, containing information that may be useful to inform your decisions.

If at any point during the session you have questions or concerns, please contact our Policy & Legislative Outreach Director, Lucy River, at (cell) 505.259.4743, or LucyA.River@state.nm.us.
As always, I am also available to speak with you directly. Have a great 2016 Session!












CONTACT: LUCY RIVER, POLICY & LEGISLATIVE OUTREACH DIRECTOR: 505.259.4743 OR LUCYA.RIVER@STATE.NM.US



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