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ICYMI: Working together to better criminal justice system

Dec 14, 2020 by AFP

State Representative Daymon Ely and Brenda Boatman, Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico Community Engagement Director | Albuquerque Journal

In 2018, we ran against each other for a seat in the New Mexico State House – Democrat vs. Republican. It goes without saying that we have disagreements on a number of issues. But there are areas where we believe people from across the political spectrum can work together to solve problems facing New Mexico. One of those is criminal justice reform.

Let’s start with the broad goals. Both sides should want swift and certain justice, improvements to public safety and efficient use of taxpayer money.

Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, New Mexico is anticipating revenue shortfalls. Corrections and the criminal justice system are a significant portion of the state budget, and squarely in the crosshairs of potential cuts. Now is the time to revisit our goals and priorities. Here is what we would propose to make our criminal justice system smarter on crime and softer on taxpayers:

  • Modify how certain crimes are defined and charged. Many states have right-sized the punishment associated with certain lower-level offenses, such as drug and property crimes. This can include increasing the property theft threshold for what dollar amount of theft classifies as a felony. More than 35 states have increased their property theft threshold, while property crime continues to decrease. Making simple drug possession a misdemeanor can save our state millions of dollars without threatening public safety, while equipping people to more effectively overcome a substance-use disorder.

  • Remove sentencing enhancements for nonviolent offenses. Give judges the discretion to deviate from sentencing enhancements when it is in the best interest of justice. Forcing individuals to serve sentences that don’t match the severity of their crime benefits no one. We can preserve public safety and allow for more proportional sentences that don’t strain taxpayer resources.

The point of these reforms is to get us out of the ineffective war of words about who is “tougher on crime,” which is both expensive and ineffective. We are wasting limited taxpayer money and unintentionally creating career criminals.

We need to be smarter about crime. Lawmakers have an opportunity to make our state safer and give thousands of New Mexicans the tools to successfully reintegrate into their communities and return to their families.

While we may not agree on everything, we are committed to bringing people together to make our criminal justice system more just.

Read the full op-ed here.