Legislation Proposing Treatment Instead of Incarceration for People with Drug Addictions Passes House Judiciary Committee

Press Release February 10, 2010
Media Contact

Reena Szczepanski at (505) 699-0798 or Julie Roberts at (505) 310-4592

SANTA FE – Legislation proposing treatment instead of incarceration for people with nonviolent drug possession arrests sponsored by Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, passed the House Judiciary Committee today by a vote of 7-5.

“The crime and punishment model is simply not suited to address the drug problem in our community,” said Maestas. “The realities of addiction must be addressed by medical and mental health professionals. House Bill 178 will alleviate an overburdened court system and produce true results to heal our families and communities.”

In 2007, New Mexico spent $22 million on incarceration and probation sentences for nonviolent drug possession arrestees. By offering substance abuse treatment services in lieu of incarceration, New Mexico could save over $20,000 per person per year.

“Investing in treatment instead of incarceration for people with drug addictions will save both lives and money,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “Especially during these economic times, our legislators must examine all worthy cost savings measures.”

Offering treatment instead of jail time will save New Mexico’s taxpayers up to $18,335,680 each year. The average cost of substance abuse treatment in New Mexico is $1,295 per person per year which is 20 times less than incarceration. According to the New Mexico Corrections Department, one year of incarceration in our state prisons costs $31,000 per person.

The policy gives judges the discretion to offer people with drug possession arrests or drug-related probation and parole violations the option to complete a treatment program as recommended by a behavioral health specialist.

A statewide poll of New Mexico voters, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, found that 71 percent of New Mexicans support treatment in lieu of incarceration for people struggling with drug addiction.

More than a dozen community organizations and agencies support the legislation, including the NM Conference of Churches, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the Santa Fe-NAACP, the Office of the Governor’s Council on Women’s Health, the Office of Reentry and Prison Reform, and the NM Department of Veterans Services. House Bill 178 is expected to be heard in House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Thursday followed by the House Judiciary Committee.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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