Criminal Justice Reform in New Mexico

Drug arrests have led to unprecedented levels of incarceration in New Mexico, especially for people of color. DPA is advocating for ending racial disparities in drug arrests and decriminalizing drug possession and use.

Exposing Racial Disparities in Drug Law Enforcement

DPA, along with partner organizations Young Women United, New Mexico Voices for Children, and ACLU-NM released a report examines drug law enforcement in Bernalillo County, which is home of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), the largest detention facility in New Mexico. Specifically, this research analyzed the racial demographics of people arrested and booked on drug law violations (possession and distribution) within the county.

The report also examines the availability and accessibility of race and ethnicity data from arrests and bookings in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. The report makes the case for improving reporting on the proportion of Indigenous, African-American, and Hispanic/Latinx people involved in the criminal justice system to gain an accurate understanding of racial and ethnic disparities.

View the report.

Decriminalizing Drug Possession and Use

DPA promotes decriminalizing drug use in New Mexico. Problematic drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one. Criminalization is not only failing to effectively control drug use, it’s a barrier to protecting individual and public health. As long as drug use is a crime, people are going to be afraid to get help.

Decriminalization means nobody goes to jail and nobody gets punished simply for possessing a small amount of a drug. This is a model that has proven successful, resulting in decreases in diseases and addiction, without increasing drug use. It also preserves scarce law enforcement resources that could be used to stop violent and predatory crime. And perhaps most significantly, it would reduce the arrest and incarceration of millions of people, most of whom are poor or people of color.

Previous Victories

Expungement & Resentencing (2021)

In April 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Expungement and Resentencing Act.  The new law automatically expunges public records, two years after the arrest or conviction, held by a court or state or local jurisdiction relating to offenses involving cannabis that are no longer a crime on the effective date of the Cannabis Regulation Act, or would have resulted in a lesser offense. The law also requires correctional facilities and jails in which persons are currently incarcerated or who have been incarcerated in the past for offenses that are no longer a crime under the Cannabis Regulation Act, or would have resulted in a lesser offense, to notify the court that those persons’ cases may be reopened to consider dismissal of their sentences or to have their cases expunged. 

Going Local with Criminal Justice Reform (2018-2020)

DPA chaired the Santa Fe Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force which included recommending innovate criminal justice models that can be implemented at a local level. (hyperlink to report)

Decriminalizing Drug Paraphernalia 

In 2019, NM became the first state to decriminalize drug paraphernalia. 

Asset Forfeiture (2015)

On April 10, 2015, Governor Susana Martinez signed HB 560 into law, ending the practice of civil asset forfeiture in New Mexico. HB 560, introduced by NM Rep. Zachary Cook and passed unanimously in the legislature, replaces civil asset forfeiture with criminal forfeiture, which requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to a crime. The new law means that New Mexico now has the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the country.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (2013-2020)

On July 14, 2013, the Santa Fe City Council unanimously approved a program that is designed to break the cycle of arrest and addiction by diverting some drug offenders into treatment. The city began implementation of a pre-booking diversion pilot program, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), in early 2014. 

LEAD identifies low-level opiate (pills and heroin) drug offenders for whom probable cause exists for an arrest and redirects them from jail and prosecution by immediately providing linkages to treatment and social supports including harm reduction and intensive case management.
DPA provided technical assistance to other New Mexico jurisdictions interested in replicating Santa Fe’s LEAD program. There are now programs in Rio Arriba County, Bernalillo County and in the city of Las Cruces.  In 2020, DPA advocated for a $1 million recurring fund to support LEAD programs in New Mexico.  These funds are now part of the State’s budget.

Ban the Box (2010)

On March 8, 2010 New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that removed barriers to employment for people with criminal convictions. SB 254, the Consideration of Crime Convictions for Jobs bill, sponsored by Sen. Clinton Harden (R-Clovis) removed the question on public job applications asking if a person has ever been convicted of a felony and delayed the inquiry into criminal history until the interview stage of the hiring process. New Mexico joined Minnesota as the second state to remove this barrier to employment for people with convictions.

Racial Profiling Bill (2009)

On April 7, 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation to officially ban bias-based profiling in New Mexico. HB 428, the Prohibition of Profiling Practices Act, officially defines and bans bias-based profiling in New Mexico, and directs law enforcement agencies to develop policies, procedures, and training protocols to prevent and prohibit profiling from occurring.

The bill also allows for oversight and investigation of profiling complaints by the Attorney General's office. New Mexico will join 23 other states in banning profiling practices by law enforcement officers and agencies.

Additional Resources