ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico is launching a program to help individuals re-enter society after serving in federal prison.
“The goal here really is to target and focus resources on those people who have done their time – they have paid their debt – and are now returning to our community,” U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez told KRQE News 13. “It’s in all of our interests for those folks to be supported, to not violate, to not commit new crimes.”
The program seeks to focus more resources on those at high risk of reoffending. Modeled after programs in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Utah, the year-long “Reentry through Integrated Opportunities” (RIO) connects individuals leaving federal prison with a reentry court judge every two weeks. The judge will ensure the individual is following their conditions of release and can levy sanctions if necessary.
The individual will also get help from substance use treatment providers and social services as necessary. If they successfully complete the year-long program, they will receive a recommendation for a reduction in their probation.
“It’s not for low-level offenders, because we are really focusing on folks who are at high risk, and those people generally have criminal histories and have done some pretty heinous things,” Uballez says. A key aspect of the program is that it’s voluntary. Individuals have to want to be involved.
The first group of eight volunteer participants recently met for their first orientation hearing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. For them, the next 52 weeks will look a bit different than the normal process for those released from federal prison.
Most released prisoners are “thrust back into the community, told to get a job, told to stay off drugs, and they check in on some regular basis with a probation officer,” Uballez explains. Those in the new reentry program, are signing up for more rigorous oversight by the courts and a more personalized plan to get their life back in order.
“This effort isn’t for everybody,” Uballez says. It takes someone who’s willing “to do this really rigorous thing: to go in front of a judge every two weeks and to check in and be scrutinized in this way.” The ideal candidate, Uballez says, is someone who is intent on turning their life around.
This first cohort of eight individuals will act as a test for the program. If successful, Uballez says it could eventually be expanded by creating several reentry programs, each with a specific focus, such as one focusing on drug treatment or one focusing on reintegrating veterans back into the community. Ultimately, the goal is to help keep people out of prison and reduce crime in New Mexico.