Updated: January 31, 2020 09:17 AM
Created: January 29, 2020 09:54 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Teen violence is an issue impacting a lot of New Mexicans. During a roundtable discussion, hosted by KOB 4's Tessa Mentus, state lawmakers addressed the issue.
KOB 4 invited lawmakers from the state Senate and state House. A total of 36 lawmakers were invited to join the conversation, but only nine showed up.
Those in attendance did not all agree that there is a crime crisis in Albuquerque.
"We haven't changed poverty much, we haven't changed drug abuse much, so I'm not sure what is causing the perception that there's been an increase in crime," said state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino.
Ortiz y Pino represents the 12th District, where 18 of Albuquerque's homicides occurred in 2019. That's more than any other district in the city.
There were no homicides in Rep. Bill Rehm's district in 2019. However, he's sponsoring several criminal justice reform bills during the legislative session.
"One of the things I've tried to explain when you're detaining someone in jail, whether it's right or wrong, for a week, two weeks, whatever, they're coming off their drugs," Rehm said. "If you immediately release them, then they go back and do the same crime that they're in for."
"What we're learning now from the system is the types of tweaks and changes that we're making for lower level crime, property crime and misdemeanors, may not be the same tweaks we need to make for higher felonies and violent crime," said Rep. Day Hochmann-Vigil.
In 2018, nine juveniles were charged with serious violent offenses. The number jumped to 22 in 2019.
"I would love to see an analysis of those 22 cases," Ortiz y Pino said. "I hope somebody at UNM or somewhere's doing that so that we could find out what are the commonalities, what are the things that are happening in these kids' lives that lead them to these explosive episodes."
Rep. Debbie Sarinana said she had a connection to one of the 22 juveniles who is facing serious charges.
"I can say one of those 22 was one of my former students," she said. "When I had him in eighth grade math - I'm a math teacher - and he was a good kid, and he was good at math, but he bounced between mom and grandma. So he'd miss a lot of school, and like you said, it's their home-life, missing school, they have this cycle that once it gets hard, they drop out, and then they get in trouble, and that's something we have to look at."
Rep. Liz Thomson said lawmakers have asked questions about the juvenile offenders.
"A couple of our committees did a meeting at the YDDC, I think, a couple years ago, and I asked, 'what percentage of your kids have a disability?' at that point, they told me, over 90%.
Thomson does not believe jailing juveniles with disabilities is helping the underlying problems.
Getting help for juvenile offenders is not an easy process. KOB 4 revealed juveniles who are in custody have a huge say in whether they receive any treatment.
"The inclination is to not jail them, you know, unless it's like a hardcore crime, so they're going to get out, but if you increase the speed of prosecution, the speed of them going to court, being held accountable, being punished, and it doesn't have to be jail, but then there's consequences, but when a case drags out so long, there's no immediate consequence, and it doesn't deter that person or his group of friends from committing crimes," Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas said after being asked whether he is satisfied with the juvenile justice system.
KOB 4 revealed to lawmakers that of the 40% of teenagers who are locked up, their first referral was for murder.
"It's about learning how to identify and intervene early because prevention, in all instances, is better than waiting until these children, and they're children, their frontal lobes are not developed until, I think they're 21 or 22 years old, preventing and intervening with children so that they don't get on a path that leads them to murder or leads them to institutionalization," Day-Hochman said.
"I think we really need to beef up our CYFD system, so that there can be interventions before it turns to murder," Thomson said. "I'm sure these kids don't go from "A" students, you know, athletes, etc, etc, honor society, to be murderers. We need the systems in place, and under this governor, we are really working to try and get, to try and intervene with these kids before, maybe before they do anything, but definitely before they escalate to murder."
Ortiz y Pino believes many of the teenagers who are charged with serious crimes were likely caught up in the system previously.
"Four different avenues that young people come into the system, but they don't talk to each other," Ortiz y Pino said. "Those four avenues, so those kids that the first contact with the juvenile justice system may have been a murder, but I'm willing to bet that they were known to protective services, they were known to special ed, and they were probably known to the behavioral health system."
Statements from other lawmakers
Lawmakers who could not attend the discussion were asked to send statements to KOB 4.
You can read those statements and learn how many homicides occurred in their district by clicking this link.
Several lawmakers did not send a statement or show up to the discussion or send a statement.
Here's a list of those lawmakers:
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