NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state’s Public Defender’s Office is hoping a big budget increase will give them a giant raise, add more social workers and help improve public safety. During a recent legislative finance session, the office asked state legislators for a $6.1 million increase in funding to help clients faced with criminal charges better understand the system and reduce repeat offenses.
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“I believe this will improve public safety because social workers can help develop recommendations for appropriate pre-trial release, treatment options, conditions of probation and maintain a connection with our clients at a time where they are open to changing their lives,” New Mexico Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said.
Baur says public defense plays an important role for New Mexicans but right now it’s underfunded and understaffed across the state. The budget increase would provide four new roles for social workers to address mental, behavioral and substance abuse issues for clients in the system, add an additional eight attorneys throughout the state and implement eight new peer case managers in a new pilot program.
“Peer case managers are people who have been through the system before and who can speak the language of some of our clients to help them navigate through the process and not fail just because they don’t understand what is going on,” said Baur.
Bauer adds that social workers and peer case managers will help clients succeed not just when they are in the court system but when they get out. He adds if clients are just processed without addressing underlying issues then they are more likely to become repeat offenders in the court system. The Public Defender’s Office is also asking for a salary increase from $35 to $50 an hour for contract social workers on a case by case basis.