Legislation Proposing Treatment Instead of Incarceration for People with Drug Addictions Passes New Mexico House Floor 34 to 31 and Passes Senate Judiciary Committee 8 to 2

Press Release February 16, 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 passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 34 to 31, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning 8 to 2. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, now heads to the Senate Floor.

“We need to enhance the tools of prosecutors and judges to creatively confront the substance abuse problem in our communities,” 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.

“The consequences of drug addiction impact thousands of families in New Mexico,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “This legislation will not only make sure people with drug addictions receive true rehabilitation through treatment, but will also make our communities safer and save our state millions of dollars every year.”

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 now heads to the Senate.

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

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