By blaming crime on "repeat offenders" without a definition of what that means, the public is just being duped.
From talking heads on TV news to politicians, we hear it daily: repeat criminal offenders have found a haven in Albuquerque. Have you asked yourself just who they are talking about?
Joe Monahan of New Mexico Politics noticed this and asked me what the definition of a repeat offender was. Why me? I was one of the Albuquerque police detectives that created the original Repeat Offenders Project (1986).
In 1986 the ROP unit spent a couple months pouring over criminal rap sheets. We would assign a number value to the crook based upon their age, number of years in prison, the types of crimes they were convicted of, etc. Based on this we would determine who was a good candidate to re-offend and start watching them.
Because we didn’t have access to very good computers, it was a clumsy system, but it did work. The big reason it worked was because we set parameters for what we called a repeat offender.
What are the parameters that the media and politicians (including the chief of police) are setting to call our crime problem one that’s caused by repeat offenders? Is it someone who has been arrested over and over, but not convicted?
Is it someone who has been convicted, but only served their time in county jails (normally for misdemeanor convictions)? Is it someone who has been convicted of a felony and served time in a state and federal penitentiary? Is one trip to the big house enough to call them a repeat offender? Or does it take multiple trips?
You might be asking yourself, what does it matter? It matters a lot.
By blaming crime on “repeat offenders” without a definition of what that means, the public is just being duped. We need to know, with actual facts, exactly what type of person is a repeat offender and how much they are to blame for our current crime crisis.
I recommend that the University of New Mexico, or some independent group, review all felony arrests made in 2016 in Bernalillo County. There are thousands, but with computers this research can be done quickly.
How many of these felonies were done by first-time offenders? How many were done by people awaiting trial for other felonies? How many were committed by people out on felony probation/parole? How many were done by hardcore ex-convicts who have done prison time?
Will the number of ex-cons committing felony crimes be what we are told? That a small number of criminals are committing most of the crimes? And what is that number?
But what if we find that most arrests are for people with no prior convictions? What does that say about our community? What if the number points to people on felony probation/parole as the ones committing many criminal acts? We need to know so we can create a plan.
If most of the crime is done by first-time offenders, then we need to look toward our schools and economic opportunities to fix this problem. If the study shows large numbers of criminal acts are done by those on felony probation/parole, then we need to review how well we monitor these people and why they’re committing crimes instead of working.
And if the number of crimes are truly being committed by a small number of ex-convicts who have served time in state and federal penitentiaries, then we must address why we are not preparing these people to re-enter society.
When someone is convicted of a felony crime, odds are they are going to be released back into our communities. It’s easy to say, “lock them up and throw away the key,” but that isn’t reality. New Mexico has a “corrections” system. But does it correct behavior? Or are we just warehousing people?
If our prison system isn’t correcting behavior, then all we are doing is sending criminals into a system that will make them better crooks. And New Mexico’s prison system has a limited number of beds. The female prisons are almost at capacity and the male prisons are getting close to capacity. What then? Raise taxes to build new prisons? That will not happen under Governor Susana Martinez.
And what do we expect from our prisons when our politicians treat correctional officers like crap? The starting salary for a state corrections officer is $28,558 a year, or $13.72 an hour. You can make almost the same amount of money, without the danger, working for Wal-Mart.
I have spoken to correctional officers and inmates and they both say there is very little being done to help offenders re-enter society. This is crazy because almost everyone in prison will get out, so why aren’t we doing more to change them into better citizens?
Let’s take the hysteria out of our crime problem. Demand that politicians define who is a “repeat offender.” Then we can tackle this problem from all sides, not just putting more cops on the beat, or blaming judges, or blaming the “case management order,” but looking at our entire criminal justice system.
If we want to fix our crime epidemic, then we must know where the disease starts, who it infects and how to treat it. Failing in any one of these areas will only mean the sickness will continue.