Proposal to rework NM’s parole and probation system makes progress at Roundhouse

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SANTA FE, N.M. – A proposal reworking the state’s parole and probation system cleared the halfway mark, and got one step closer to the governor’s desk Tuesday. 

The bill’s sponsors are looking at the parole system from an addiction perspective.

A legislative report found over a third of all prison admissions last year were made up of people whose parole was revoked, and data suggests nearly 70% of those cases only involved technical parole violations.

Those are situations that aren’t considered dangerous to the public and don’t include any new crimes, such as a drug addict relapsing and failing a drug test, or missing a meeting with a parole officer.

Albuquerque state senators Bill O’Neill and Moe Maestas are proposing a new, tiered system of parole and probation violations that would lessen the consequences of those technical offenses.

According to their bill, a person with one or two technical violations would not be automatically sent back to prison. Instead, they would spend several days doing community service or behavioral health treatment.

The third, fourth and subsequent violations would send offenders back to prison for a certain amount of time, or for the rest of their sentence.

“We have way too many prison admissions, people going back for technical parole violations, not for new felonies, like just a lot of times it’s, you know, the tested dirty too many times,” said O’Neill. “But the point is, this isn’t being soft on crime. What this is, is acknowledging that addiction is a huge part of criminal behavior.” 

This proposal is raising concerns from officials in all levels of the court system, including the state parole board.

A representative vocally opposed the bill during Tuesday’s committee meeting because it does not exclude sex offenders or violent criminals.

The sponsors challenged that, saying it’s up to the parole board to release those criminals from prison in the first place.

“This honestly just gives the people in the field more choices, and they can immediately revoke somebody immediately, especially one that has ‘whoa, why is this person out?’ So it’s just acknowledging that each situation is different,” O’Neill said. 

The bill was amended on the Senate floor to better clarify what is a technical violation, and that clarification seemed to help the proposal clear the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee along party lines Tuesday afternoon.