New Mexico is currently considering a bill that would substantially expand mandatory life sentences in the state. In a commentary in the Albuquerque Journal, The Sentencing Project’s Senior Research Analyst Ashley Nellis documents the harm the legislation would cause if passed.
To begin, the impact of this law on the state prison population could be “crippling,” as incarceration costs alone over the next 15 years would the state approximately $60 million. In addition, New Mexico’s prisons are already expected to be at 98% capacity by this July.
But fiscal concerns are not the only problem with this bill.
Though some of the bill’s supporters claim that violent offenders are not serving enough prison time, the facts don’t support this claim. Currently, one of every 16 people in New Mexico prisons is serving a life sentence.
The proposed expansion of life sentences would contrast the state with national trends. While 24 states and the federal government decreased their prison populations between 2013 and 2014, New Mexico’s population grew to a record high with the growth in lifers far outpacing that of the overall growth in prisoners.
All this suggests that New Mexico is plenty tough already. It is impossible to reconcile a concern that not enough people are going to prison, or getting long enough sentences, with these sobering facts.
Read the full commentary in the Albuquerque Journal.