Governor Vetoes an Appropriation Aimed at Reducing Property Crime and Opiate Addiction, While Saving the Criminal Justice and Health System Millions of Dollars
Santa Fe – Today, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a $140,000 appropriation, sponsored by Representative Luciano “Lucky” Varela (D-48-Santa Fe) and Senator Nancy Rodriguez (D-24-Santa Fe), which would have supported a City of Santa Fe pilot program designed to break the cycle of arrest and addiction by diverting some drug offenders into treatment.
The city’s pre-booking diversion program, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), will begin late this month. If successful, this model could become a model for other New Mexico communities, saving both the criminal justice and health systems tens of millions of dollars each year.
“With the stroke of a pen, the Martinez Administration painted a bleak future for New Mexico's families facing substance misuse by continuing to treat addiction as a criminal issue and not a health problem,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico state director for the Drug Policy Alliance and co-chair of the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force. “The administration sent us a clear message - the State of New Mexico will not be investing in a smart on crime, tough on spending opportunity.”
LEAD identifies low-level opiate (pills and heroin) drug offenders for whom probable cause exists for an arrest and redirects them from jail and prosecution by immediately providing linkages to treatment and social supports including harm reduction and intensive case management. The city of Santa Fe will become second in the nation to implement this new model. Seattle was the first to implement in 2011.
After nine months of studying the issue, and engaging stakeholders and the community, the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force found that the current approach - arresting and incarcerating people for small amounts of opiates without access to long-term treatment and social supports - only moves a relatively small fraction of offenders off the streets, for brief periods of time, and at a significantly higher cost than non-criminal justice system interventions. It diverts increasingly limited law enforcement resources from more serious crimes. A cost benefit analysis conducted by the Santa Fe Community Foundation and in partnership with the LEAD Santa Fe Task Force shows that we are spending close to $1.5 million per year across the law enforcement, jail, judicial, and medical systems, arresting, incarcerating, and charging people possessing heroin, pills and paraphernalia; once established, a LEAD program could cost the city half of what it is spending today.
The New Mexico Department of Health reports that the state has the highest drug-induced death rate in the nation. Drug induced deaths in Santa Fe County, between 2007-2011, were at 24.3 per 100,000 equal to the state rate and up from 18.1 between 2005-2009. In New Mexico, drug overdose deaths have now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death.
“With such high rates of overdose deaths, and the chronic lack of treatment options in our state, it is especially disheartening that the Martinez Administration chose not to support a program designed to break the cycle of addiction and arrest, improve public safety, and improve public health,” said Monica Ault, Ralph Abascal Law Fellow for the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Santa Fe Police Department has said that property crimes in the city are directly related to an increase in the problematic use of opiates, including heroin and opiate-based pills. Seventy-one (71 percent) of New Mexico voters support allowing a person caught with small amounts of drugs to be offered drug treatment instead of being incarcerated, according to SJC Research.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.