SANTA FE, NM -- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico called on the New Mexico State Legislature to pass SB 247, a bill that would abolish juvenile life without parole in New Mexico and would create early eligibility for parole for those serving long adult sentences for crimes committed as children in our state. The bill will bring New Mexico into compliance with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and with national best practices.
In New Mexico, there are just under 100 people serving sentences longer than 10 years for crimes committed as children. Many are serving sentences that practically guarantee that they will spend the rest of their lives in prison. Many have already spent decades in prison – some over 40 years – for crimes committed when they were 15 and 16 years old. Modern brain science and psychology have shown that youth are different from adults in important ways, including decision-making, impulsivity, and response to peer pressure. Science also reveals that youth possess a unique ability for reform and rehabilitation.
“All children are capable and worthy of redemption,” said Denali Wilson, staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico. “Senate Bill 247 doesn’t automatically throw open prison doors, but it does provide a path to redemption for those who earn it. “This bill provides a second chance to young people who have grown into different people, are committed to repairing the harm they caused, and ready to safely rejoin society.”
Las Cruces native Carissa McGee, who recently testified before the Senate Health and Public Affairs in support of SB 247, sees herself as a perfect example of why juvenile sentencing reform is necessary in New Mexico. When she was 16, Carissa seriously injured her mother and sister after she attacked them in the midst of a mental health crisis precipitated by her mother’s abuse and rejection following her coming out as gay. Carissa, a star high school athlete soon bound for college, was sentenced as an adult to 21 years in prison. During her time in prison, Carissa committed herself to healing her trauma and becoming a changed person through working with Project ECHO to become a peer educator for other incarcerated people. After nearly nine years, Carissa was released and served a further four years of parole.
Today, she is beginning graduate school and continues to serve as a mentor for youth, continuing her work with Project ECHO where she reenters prisons throughout the state to educate, develop skills, and inspire hope. Carissa also officiates middle and high-school basketball and advocates for supportive services for LGBTQ+ youth.
“Thankfully, I was given a meaningful and timely second chance at this thing called life,” said Carissa McGee. “By the time I received my first parole board hearing after eight years of incarceration, I was undeniably a changed woman. I am living proof that young people can overcome their trauma and make meaningful contributions to their community.”