In the past 10 years, the number of youth detained in New Mexico county detention facilities has gone down by 39 percent — from 4,056 in 2010 to 1,597 in 2019. As more and more juvenile detention beds stayed empty, county juvenile detention facilities closed.
Today only six of the 14 facilities that were open in 2010 remain, and at least two of these are considering closure. Cost of operation is a significant factor in the decision to close.
In fiscal year 2019, 89 percent of the cost of juvenile detention in New Mexico was born by the few counties that continue to operate facilities. Even with the facility closures, on average, half of the available juvenile detention beds in New Mexico are empty on any given day.
Although “customer counties” pay per diem to house their youth, the per diem amount does not come close to a proportional share of the actual cost to operate. Cities do not contribute at all to the cost of juvenile detention, although the majority of youth in detention were arrested within city limits.
Questions raised about whether the reduction in juvenile detention is because of a reduction in juvenile crime are harder to answer and the subject of much debate. Referrals by law enforcement are in fact down 26 percent in the last five years — largely due to a reduction in referrals for drug and property offenses. However, referrals for assaultive behavior during the same period increased by 7 percent and now comprise one-third of all law enforcement referrals.
The de facto regionalization of juvenile detention in New Mexico has created challenges and hardships. Youth may be housed hours from their homes and support systems and often must be transported long distances to and from court. There is no trained, certified, transportation system for transporting these youth so local law enforcement provides that transportation. There are inadequate alternatives to detention available to respond to juvenile behavior that would be better addressed without detention. Court processing of juvenile cases can be inefficient.
While it is critical that we do not detain youth who do not need to be locked in a secure facility, detention beds are an essential component
of a complete juvenile justice system, and we need collective solutions for how to fund them. Memorials introduced this session by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Micaela Cadena, D-Mesilla, would convene stakeholders to study and make recommendations regarding important issues like cost sharing, court processes, transportation, public safety and community-based alternatives to detention, including inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. House Memorial 14 and Senate Memorial 15 are worthy of support.