The Roundhouse in November 2020. (Eddie Moore / )
SANTA FE – New Mexico is facing a lack of accommodation for inmates who are leaving the prison system and needing stable housing while they return to the community, correction officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
In testimony from the committee, heads of the state adult probation and probation department and a transitional housing program said it was difficult to find suitable housing, especially for geriatric inmates and others in need of mental health or medical care.
But stable living is a decisive factor in helping former prisoners to find work and to be successful after their imprisonment.
“There is always more demand than there is space,” said Ricki Bloom, program manager for Dismas House, a transitional housing program in the North Valley of Albuquerque. “We need more beds.”
A particular challenge is that a large part of the low-income and subsidized housing in Albuquerque is managed by companies that prohibit letting to felons.
The testimony came as New Mexico lawmakers prepare for a 30-day session next year devoted primarily to preparing a state budget, amid forecasts for strong sales growth.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, with authority to add to the agenda, said she intended to make public safety legislation a priority for the meeting.
Albuquerque – the state’s largest city – is having a record year for homicides. The debate on fighting crime and homelessness was a focus of this year’s mayoral election in the city.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and all 70 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election next year. The Democrats have large majorities in both houses of the legislature.
Rep. Gail Chasey, a Democrat from Albuquerque and co-chair of the Legislative Judiciary, Criminal and Justice Committee, who heard the apartment’s presentation, said expanding options for people exiting the prison system will help improve public safety would contribute.
“Everyone is talking about the safety of the community – and they are legitimately concerned,” said Chasey, “but if you find people who are (released) and help them stabilize, you will make the community safer.”
She suggested that the state could ask business leaders to ensure that serious criminals are not banned from renting apartments in subsidized housing.
Haven Scogin, manager of community corrections for the state, said the lack of suitable housing across New Mexico could lead to more ex-inmates ending up in Albuquerque.
“Our goal is to fire people into communities where they come from,” and tap into family connections, Scogin said. “Some often end up in Albuquerque, but have no connection to the area.”
Inmates, she said, usually work with transition coordinators six months before their release date. Special forces review the plan, and if it’s a private home, a probation officer visits the house to speak to family and friends.
Officers can recommend GPS tracking, drug abuse treatment, or other monitoring conditions.
Group housing options for ex-prisoners range from 24-7 supervision in an inpatient program to halfway houses without on-site programming.
The prison department usually pays the housing costs for one to three months.