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January 11, 2024

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Leading experts and advocates associated with the NM SAFE coalition held a press conference today urging legislators to rethink their approach to crime ahead of the 2024 legislative session. Amid renewed calls for punitive policies, professionals working to address addiction, homelessness, and youth violence, called on lawmakers to focus on proven solutions that tackle the root causes of crime and invest in families and the future of New Mexico.

“It is our hope that the legislature will commit to bolstering investments in behavioral health, housing, diversion programs, and education that will transform our state for the better,” said Nayomi Valdez, director of public policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. “They must resist the temptation to look for quick-fix policies in the form of punishment, more law enforcement, and criminalization that ultimately harm our communities and don’t make us safer.” 

A 2023 report on homelessness and affordable housing delivered to the Legislative Finance Committeeshowed that homelessness in New Mexico increased 48% in 2022 due to the increased cost of living and decreasing stock of affordable housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently reported that New Mexico had the second largest percentage increase in homelessness in the country between 2022 and 2023. Even though they have nowhere else to go, thousands of unhoused people face high rates of arrest and incarceration for occupying public spaces.

“Safe and secure housing is the foundation of strong, healthy communities,” said Rachel Biggs, chief strategy officer at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. “Yet too many people in our state are experiencing homelessness and face daily threats of arrest and incarceration for simply existing in public spaces. We urgently need lawmakers to invest in housing as a public safety priority, and resist the urge to pass laws that do not address the root causes of homelessness and that will only further harm and destabilize our communities.”

In addition to high rates of homelessness, New Mexico has the highest alcohol-related death rate in the country and ranked sixth nationally for drug overdose deaths in 2021. A 2023 Legislative Finance Committee report found that although the state has improved investments in treating substance use disorders, further investment is needed in evidence based treatment, as well  upstream interventions and prevention efforts.

“So many people in our communities are in dire need of services and support, not just for addiction, but also for co-occurring mental health conditions and chronic medical problems that often contribute to substance use,” said Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of state advocacy and criminal legal reform at the Drug Policy Alliance. “What we’re witnessing is a public health crisis. We urge legislators to shift from a criminal approach to a public health approach and to make long term investments in the health of our families and communities.”

High rates of youth in New Mexico – which ranks last for child well-being – also  experience behavioral health issues, including substance use disorders and mental illness. Not receiving the treatment they need or having access to drug and violence prevention programs can lead to devastating outcomes. 

“I wish my son Noah would have had the support he needed to stay away from drugs and out of trouble,” said Vanesa Hulliger, a mother and advocate whose son almost lost his life in a drug shootout and was sentenced to prison for fatally wounding another. “My goal now is to do everything I can to improve conditions for youth in New Mexico so that other families don’t experience the devastating pain of losing a child to prison, guns, or drugs.”