Bill to help fund mental competency evaluations in criminal cases

Politics - Government

Correction Below

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – With crime rampant in our state right now, one lawmaker is hoping to tackle it with more money for mental health evaluations.

There are tens of thousands of criminal cases filed within New Mexico each year and in a lot of those cases, a suspect’s competency is questioned. Backers of this bill said it could help get those cases moving faster.

“It really is a pay increase for people who do a very hard job,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo (D- Albuquerque).

House Bill 273, would funnel about $250,000 to the Human Services Department. That money would be used to increase the pay rates for those behavioral specialists who conduct the competency evaluations in criminal cases.

Right now, the state pays behavioral specialists about $700 per competency evaluation in felony cases and around $300 in misdemeanor cases. Supporters of this bill said the pay increase will bring in more behavioral specialists and cut down on a growing backlog of these mental health evaluations.

“When you can’t get a competency done in a timely manner, it causes significant impact to the individual and the broader criminal justice system,” said Jason Weaks in support of this legislation. “Essentially what you end up having is folks sitting in jail waiting for a competency evaluation and if they can’t get one done timely, they just continue to sit there.”

The bill was not voted on because all of the Republicans on that committee were not there during the bill’s reading.

This funding is not in the state’s budget, but Rep. Trujillo hopes to work it in before the session ends.

Correction: In a previous version of this story, we reported that it was House Bill 237 that would funnel about $250,000 to the Human Services Department. That is incorrect, House Bill 273 would funnel the money.

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