ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Statistics showing a decline in crime in New Mexico’s largest city spurred questions Wednesday among lawmakers about what’s working within the criminal justice system and what needs to be fixed.
Analysts for the state’s Legislative Finance Committee presented figures indicating that crime in almost all categories except murder dropped significantly in March compared with a peak in August.
Analysts also said a comparison of statistics from March 2017 and last month showed a dip in crime — a welcome change after years of debate over the best approach to stemming a crime wave that has plagued the city.
The trend has been attributed to a variety of factors, including a shift toward prioritizing cases involving what Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez characterized as the 300 worse defendants.
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The number of robberies and auto thefts, for example, decreased by nearly half compared with figures from August.
Only the number of murders increased in Albuquerque in that period, with 10 in March versus seven in August. Analysts indicated they were uncertain whether that increase might represent the start of a trend.
The last time the city saw an overall decline in crime was February 2015, according to state analysts.
Since 2010, crime in Albuquerque has increased by about 60 percent. During that time, the poverty rate, drug overdose death rate and number of families receiving public assistance has increased in Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, the percent of the population in the labor force has declined slightly from 66.4 percent to roughly 63 percent, according to state analysts.
“I wonder if we are treating a symptom and not the problem,” Rep. James Townsend, a Republican from Artesia, said. “I think the problem we should really be addressing as legislators is really to put those families to work.”
Almost $500 million in taxpayer money is spent each year on the Bernalillo County criminal justice system, which includes police, courts, district attorney’s office and jail.
Recidivism and preparing convicts for re-entry into society also surfaced as points of concern during Wednesday’s hearing.
Analyst Jon Courtney noted that hundreds of state inmates who could be readjusting to society on parole remain in prisons as part of what’s known as “in-house parole”— a problem analysts have noted in previous reports.
An Associated Press review of Corrections Department data earlier this year found that the driving factor of in-house parole has been a shortage of housing and resources for felons, who must arrange for a place to live as a condition of their release. The cost of incarcerating inmates can cost the state more than $100 a day.
“We’re now detaining parolees with no place for them to go,” said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Democrat from Quest. “What is the appropriate solution for that dilemma we’re in?”