Inefficiencies in the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) and the state’s Parole Board have resulted in hundreds of prisoners being kept in prison long beyond their parole release dates. The cost of incarcerating each prisoner during this so-called “in-house parole” is $99.31 per day, and with only 50% of New Mexico’s female prisoners being paroled on time, one state lawmaker has expressed interest in ending the practice.
In fiscal year 2014, 231 female prisoners who remained in prison on in-house parole collectively spent an additional 28,982 days behind bars, according to a report issued by the New Mexico Women’s Justice Project. Representatives from the organization testified about the report’s findings before a legislative hearing on November 30, 2015.
The report, titled “Months Late, Millions Wasted,” revised in January 2016, cited data from a Legislative Finance Committee study that determined the delayed release of 290 prisoners in 2014, both male and female, had cost New Mexico taxpayers an estimated $10.3 million that year alone.
“It’s a major problem,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, who co-chairs the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. “That’s a lot of money for taxpayers.”
“When I first heard of in-house parole, I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’” added NMCD Secretary Gregg Marcantel, who took office in November 2011. “It’s a term that doesn’t make any sense.”
State Senator Bill O’Neill called a 50% rate of late parole releases for female prisoners “stunning.” He noted that one of the main problems was a lack of halfway houses for newly-released prisoners. Other reasons for the delays included difficulty in placing some prisoners in halfway houses, such as those with convictions for violent or sex offenses, and – more frequently – prisoners who remain incarcerated while they wait for NMCD officials to complete their parole certificates.
“You would think that someone’s liberty would demand more than what, essentially, is bureaucratic indifference,” stated Rep. Maestas.
NMCD Secretary Marcantel blamed many of the delays on the prison system’s practice of waiting until a prisoner is 90 days from release before starting to prepare the necessary release paperwork.
“If you’re scurrying around in the last 90 days ... it’s not going to be an effective thing and you’re going to have a lot of errors,” he said. The New Mexico Women’s Justice Project found that in only 11% of the cases they examined were parole hearings held within 90 days of prisoners’ release dates.
Sherry Stephens, executive director of the state’s Parole Board, acknowledged the problem. “By the time it gets to us, there could be a little bit of a lag,” Stephens said.
In a single day in March 2007, the Parole Board had to scratch almost three-quarters of the 38 prisoners scheduled for parole hearings at the Lea County Detention Center, operated by private prison company GEO Group, mostly due to missing paperwork.
Within the past several years the NMCD has instituted a new procedure, called “Cradle to Grave,” that directs case workers to begin preparing parole records as soon as prisoners are processed into the NMCD. Marcantel has also imposed fines on private prisons that fail to release prisoners on time. [See: PLN, Jan. 2013, p.40].
“Arguably, the community thinks [private prisons] sometimes are more incentivized not to get those parole plans together because they have more [per-diem payments] in their contract,” said Marcantel. “Well, we’re penalizing them on a per-day basis.”
As for prisoners who would prefer to complete their sentences in prison rather than being released on parole and supervised for a longer period of time, Marcantel stated the NMCD was working to make receipt of good time conditioned on following the parole process.
“Now, I’m telling them, ‘Here’s the deal: Your good time is dependent upon you positively participating in finding a way for you to succeed when you get out of prison,’” Marcantel said in April 2014.
Although Rep. Maestas indicated that he thinks the NMCD is “opening itself up to a lawsuit” due to its practice of in-house parole, he believes the law as currently written favors prison officials because it says the department “may” release prisoners on parole as opposed to “must.” A change to that statutory language, he said, would require the NMCD to parole prisoners in a timely manner.
Sources: www.watchdog.org, www.santafenewmexican.com
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