Criminal Justice Reform in New Mexico

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

Protecting Asset Forfeiture Reform

Civil asset forfeiture, also known as “policing for profit,” allows law enforcement officers to seize personal property without ever charging—much less convicting—a person with a crime. In civil forfeiture, the property itself, rather than an individual, is believed to be connected to a crime. Property seized through this process often finds its way into the department’s own coffers.

DPA has long played a leading role in forfeiture reform – calling for abolishing civil forfeiture entirely and supporting efforts to substantially reform the practice.

DPA worked in New Mexico to help pass a sweeping bill in 2015 that enacted many reforms, giving the state some of the strongest protections against wrongful seizures in the country. However, law enforcement in New Mexico will not rest until portions of the new law are repealed.  DPA will continue to protect the reforms signed into law in 2015.

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.

Promoting Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

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 is working to replicate Santa Fe’s LEAD program in Las Cruces, NM and Bernalillo County.

Previous Victories

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.

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