Racial and Ethnic Bias in New Mexico Drug Law Enforcement: A Summary of Preliminary Findings and Recommendations


This report by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the Drug Policy Alliance, New Mexico Voices for Children, and Young Women United 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.


  • African-American people, Indigenous people and Hispanic/Latinx people in Bernalillo County are booked into jail on drug charges at disproportionately high rates, despite the fact that people of all races use and sell drugs at similar rates. Meanwhile, White people are booked at disproportionately low rates.
  • New Mexico’s case tracking system does not meet current federal guidelines for race and ethnicity data collection, and the state does not report race and ethnicity figures related to arrests to the federal government. This lack of transparency has made it difficult to draw precise conclusions about the extent of racial and ethnic bias in drug arrests within the county.


1. Improve data collection within New Mexico’s criminal justice system, paying special attention to racial and ethnic identifiers. Ensure arrest reporting in New Mexico meets federal guidelines for recording race and ethnicity.

  • Support law enforcement agencies and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in operationalizing the inclusion of these data in their record keeping. Develop data entry instructions and train officers so that race and ethnicity information are collected and reported in a uniform manner.
  • Review and revise operating procedures for the collection of race and ethnicity data at booking and other non-arrest data collection points in the criminal justice system..
2. Invest in evidence-based interventions at the local and state levels to reduce racially disparate treatment and overreliance on incarceration, while improving public safety throughout our communities.

For more information contact Jessica Gelay, [email protected], 505-983-3277.

New Mexico