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Published: September 8, 2018
Peter DeBenedittis

New Mexico stands out internationally for locking people up!

What a terrible reputation we’ve built. We lead the developed world in locking people up. Worse yet, our policies create modern-day debtor prisons targeting people of color.

Over 16,000 New Mexicans are behind bars. And nearly half of them haven’t even been convicted of a crime. Most are in local jails awaiting trial and simply can’t afford bail. In 2016, New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment seeking to ensure that dangerous or high-risk defendants awaiting trial remain incarcerated, and nonviolent ones unable to afford bail are let go. But like so many problems facing us, the wishes of New Mexico voters are somehow lost when it comes to politicians implementing these reforms.

And meanwhile, the prison/industrial complex is still turning out a profit. Right now hundreds of incarcerated New Mexicans are being held past their parole date. It’s an expensive problem draining our state budget while providing prisons labor for as little as 10¢ per hour: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-mexico/articles/2018-01-27/hundreds-of-new-mexico-inmates-held-past-parole-date

Not only are New Mexicans abused for other’s profits because they’re poor, but Blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics suffer all the more. Even though Hispanics and Native Americans are well represented among our law-makers, prosecutors, and judges, our prisons disproportionally incarcerate people of color.

Now through Sept. 9th, prisoners in 11 states have gone on hunger strikes because they’re being used as slave labor:  

Prisoners in the Lea County correctional facility have been on lockdown since last month because of their actions to stand up for themselves.

As a child who was first in a Catholic school, then in continued in Sunday School after my parents divorced, I was taught that how we treat the least among us, is how we can expect God to treat us.  You know, the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

So what are we doing unto others?

We’re long past making excuses saying there’s nothing we can do. California just passed a law that ends the cash bail system. Rather than requiring defendants to pay in order to be released before trial, their release will hinge on an assessment of their risk to public safety.  You know, like the policy New Mexican’s voted to enact 2 years ago, but for whatever [fill in any popular excuse] reason hasn’t widely been put into place.

Like most foot-dragging in our state, if you follow the money, you’ll find out why we’re last in that category.

We need to starve the beast if we want it to die. Rather than keep spending our tax dollars to provide the prison industry with near slave labor from New Mexicans of color, let’s send our money on reform programs that work.  

Have you seen Jeff Apodaca’s idea to divert $220 Million away from our prisons into residential treatment and job training facilities for non-violent and drug offenders?  Other states that have done this have had outstanding results. They’ve significantly lowered recidivism, lowered prison costs, and boosted states’ tax bases: https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/2059-the-economic-impact-of-prison-rehabilitation/for-students/blog/news.php

So what are we waiting for?  We’ve got a hotly contested election, but little talk from the candidates about prison reform.  For decades, the wealthiest in our county have worked to polarize us.  This has created a situation where the political parties on one side offer us terrible policies masked with racist appeals. And on the other side, policies that seem like their progress compared to how bad the other sides are—but really offer little economic and justice reform while continuing to funnel money to corporate elites.

In New Mexico’s prison system, this has translated into blatant racist policies that lock up and enslave the poorest members of our society. If you only choose to vote based on one candidate not being as bad as the other one, then you’re giving your silent approval to keeping non-violent New Mexicans locked up at a great tax-payer expense.  Please join me demanding candidates address prison reform and please pledge to only vote for candidates who give us all that we deserve.

If you’re using your vote to affirm to the Universe that you’ll accept less than you deserve, and New Mexico continue to be last in everything that matters while leading the world in locking our people away in labor camps.

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