4 Investigates: State prison system cuts funds to help newly released inmates | KOB 4

4 Investigates: State prison system cuts funds to help newly released inmates

Chris Ramirez
Updated: September 27, 2020 10:34 PM
Created: September 27, 2020 07:34 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- State legislators and community advocates are questioning funding cuts by the New Mexico Department of Corrections that reduce services for newly released inmates.  Lawmakers have long argued that investing in rehabilitative services for this population decreases the chances they re-offend and increases their ability to thrive after they’ve paid their debts to society.

“This is a public safety issue,” said State Senator Bill O’Neill.  “This is common sense, if somebody doesn't re-offend it's a safer community.”

Dismas House in Albuquerque is a place where newly released inmates can live, get counseling and help finding a job immediately after released from incarceration.  According to documents provided by the NM Dept. of Correction, the contract for the services Dismas House provides was cut by 40 percent.  In a recent legislative hearing, lawmakers questioned the Dept. of Corrections’ leadership about it. 

“We were very concerned that funding at a time when re-entry is so important, where you are under pressure to release people because of COVID, I’m very concerned about a dramatic cut in funding for Dismas House,” Sen. O’Neill said.  

“It just seems to me incongruent to cut a budget for halfway houses because you end up with  people serving in house parole and that ends up costing a lot more money than a halfway house,” said State Rep. Gail Chasey. 

What lawmakers did not know at that time is the NM Department of Corrections actually cut the contracts of at least 19 companies that provide a variety of services including mental and behavioral health help, housing, job placement and medical help for those in transition.

According to documents from the NM Department of Corrections, those providers are:

Vendor Name                         Areas Served             FY20               FY21               Difference

A New Awakening                     Bernalillo County          $90,000           $30,000           -66%

Albuquerque Behavioral Health Bernalillo County          $75,000           $20,000           -73%

Canyon Light                            Otero County               $178,000         $34,221           -81%

Cottonwood Clinical Services     San Juan County          $2,000             $1,000             -50%

Crossroads for Women             Statewide                     $1,162,270      $1,093643       -5%

Eagles Unlimited                       Statewide                     $517,591         $316,059         -39%

GEO Group- Recovery Acad.     Statewide                     $4,603,315      $4,357,636      -5%

Golden Services                        Eddy County                $39,250           $20,000           -49%

Hopeworks (Dismas House)      Statewide                     $150,510         $90,000           -40%

Human Resources Devel.          Colfax, Mora, Taos        $91,000           $30,000           -60%

Interfaith Leap                          Statewide                      $102,200         $8,941             -91%

Journeys/Paseo Nuevo             Bernalillo, Sandoval      $392,024         $320,000         -18%

La Clinica de Familia                  Dona Ana County         $115,000         $23,866           -79%

La Pasada                                 Statewide                     $666,500         $620,000         -7%

NM Solutions                            Bernalillo County          $65,000           $30,000           -54%

PMS                                         McKinley, Cibola, Eddy  $40,000           $20,000           -50%

The Life Link                             Santa Fe County           $15,000           $6,000             -60%

Valle Del Sol                             Taos, Rio Arriba            $7,000             $2,500             -64%

VIBE                                         Dona Ana County         $65,000           $20,000           -69%  

“I was surprised and disturbed that these transitional services are being cut.  There are many other areas that could be cut where public safety wouldn't be jeopardized,” Sen. O’Neill said.

Matt Coyte is a legal advocate for inmates and people who have been incarcerated.  Coyte said he has seen his own clients thrive once they’re provided with the necessary transitional services.

“When you transition someone from prison who has a drug addiction or mental health problem, you can't just let them drop into the community unaided,” Coyte said.  “It makes no sense.  They require some help back into the community to make it safe for us all.  It's a revolving door.  That's what everyone complains about here with the criminal justice system.  They say it's a revolving door. How you stop it is to provide rehabilitative services.”

In a Special Legislative Session this summer that addressed the budget shortfalls that the COVID-19 crisis created.  The governor and legislators agreed on a five percent cut across all state agencies. The KOB 4 Investigates Team wanted to know why all 19 contractors listed above were cut at levels much greater than five percent.   

KOB requested an interview with NM Department of Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero, but a spokesman indicated she was too busy for an entire week to make time for an interview.  KOB spoke with Melanie Martinez, Director of Probation and Parole.

“So, the department had to come up with a 5 percent reduction,” Martinez said.  “You are looking at individual providers as far as what they were cut.  We had to look at it as a whole.  We based what they were awarded this year on the average of what they spent last year.  That's important to say out loud, it's not that we cut them-- it's basically what did they use?”

Coyte questioned the priorities of leadership at the Corrections Department.  He pointed KOB to an invoice that showed Sec. Tafoya Lucero spent about $43,000 of public funds to remodel her private executive office along with a an attached small kitchen and restroom.  The invoice indicates the work was completed in June 2019, which is in a different budget year than the service provider cuts.

“Forty three thousand dollars for a toilet is outrageous even if we were in wealthy times” Coyte said.  “But we've had underfunding in the DOC forever and now we are cutting it again, yet there is money for toilets in executive offices.  It's incredible.”

When KOB asked Director Martinez about the concern that an executive was remodeled not long before the state agency cut funds for services, she refused to comment. 

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