State lawmakers hear concerns over juvenile detention center closures

New Mexico News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Juvenile crime has not dropped in the state, but there is a decreasing number of juvenile detention centers statewide, and it is causing serious concerns.

Juvenile detention facilities statewide are shutting down.

“Their decision for closing is an indication that times have changed,
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Albuquerque (D), said.

Over the last 15 years, half of the state’s 14 juvenile detention centers have closed. Two more centers in Chaves and Luna counties are expected to close this year, cost being the chief factor.

“The overall cost for juvenile detention in this state is about $18.5 million a year,” Grace Philips, general counsel for New Mexico Counties said.

Philips said the closures come amid a steady decline in juveniles detained statewide, dropping from around 4,100 in 2010 to around 1,500 this year, leaving centers once packed to capacity nearly empty.

“When you are talking about two, three or five kids being held in a facility, at a certain point, it can be hard to justify not just the cost but resources going to that,” Philips said.

She said it is due in part to a shift toward juvenile detention alternatives, like home confinement and 24-hour supervision.

“We do have programs that are keeping kids out of jail, out of the whole court system entirely,” Ortiz y Pino said.

Lawmakers heard the concerns Tuesday, such as the burden of transporting juveniles hours to get to and from the remaining detention centers, away from their families.

“We are detaining fewer kids, but the impact on those kids that are being detained now is not beneficial,” Ortiz y Pino said.

While Tuesday’s meeting was just a discussion, Philips said she hopes the talks lay the groundwork for future legislation.

Bernalillo County has the largest juvenile center in our state with nearly 80 beds.

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