The New Mexico prison population has dropped 6.6 percent in the past two years, says a study reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican. The news comes as the state is preparing for the opening of a new 625-bed private prison in Clayton next month. A study by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission says several factors have led to the decline.
The number of people released from prison, especially nonviolent and drug offenders, is outpacing the number of people admitted. Violent offenders are being admitted and released at the same rate. The Corrections Department is increasingly imposing sanctions other than prison for technical parole violations, such as missing a counseling session. The alternative sanctions include house arrest, Global Positioning System monitoring, drug counseling, and stricter parole reporting requirements. The state now has 31 felony drug courts to treat offenders; courts may indirectly keep offenders from being rearrested and potentially going to prison. The state for years had seen population growth, hitting an all-time high of 6,803 inmates in June 2006. Last week, it was down to 6,269. JFA Associates, a firm the state uses to make population projections, said the number of prisoners decreased in seven other states in the first six months of 2007 – Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Vermont, and Washington.