Yesterday I was up and out of the house really early to attend Mayor David Coss's Blue Ribbon Panel tasked with coming up with a plan to end homelessness in five years. It is an ambitious goal. I give a lot of credit to Mayor Coss for beginning this process. I was asked by Mayor Coss to sit on the panel and I was happy to do so. I am not a morning person so I am glad the next meeting is not at 7:30 am like the first one was. The first meeting was introductions and preliminary discussions while the next meeting will begin breaking the group up into committees. The Santa Fe New Mexican's Henry Lopez was up early to cover the meeting. The one thing I have always admired about Mayor Coss both when he was a Councilor and as Mayor was his ability to think "bigger picture" and not just take on the easy political issues. These types of initiatives take courage to even begin and most politicians will not take them on for fear of the high chance of failure to do more than make short term gains both politically and realistically. This group seems highly motivated and knowledgeable so I see good things coming out of these meetings.
The New Mexican's Steve Terrell did a piece on private prisons and this subject always interests me. It was a standard piece which contained the usual quotes from the firm Rothstien and Donatelli. All reporters run to them for their negative quotes whenever doing a prison or jail story. The firm has made millions off the backs of governments and taxpayers while purporting to be advocates for prisoners. I have said it before and I will say it again when this firm puts even 10% of the millions they make into any inmate programs whether it be vocational training, living skills or substance abuse programs I will have a little more respect for them.
Donatelli mentioned that Santa Fe County was struggling to run its jail after years of it being run by private entities. One of the reasons the County, (any County for that matter) has to struggle is that resources and money that could go towards operations and programs go to insurance and legal costs to fend off those who make a living taking advantage of taxpayers and getting the easy money to be made in the lawsuits against jails. The Firm Donatelli and Rothstien collected two million dollars for 6 months work in the Strip Search lawsuit. Even if they worked all day every day 40 hours a week this comes out to a ridicules hourly wage.
District judges and defense attorneys try to keep prisoners who are sentenced to prison out of the prison system by having prisoners sentenced to say five years in prison but deferring all but 364 days. What this does is burden the county jails with hard core prisoners who belong in prison and whose bill should be paid by the state but because of the deferred sentence they end up with the bill for their incarceration being paid by the County. Private jails and prisons have not been good for New Mexico and that is one of the few areas where Donatelli and Rothstien and I agree. Privatization does make more sense for prisons than jails and I have yet to see a jail in New Mexico where it has worked out. On the other hand the State of New Mexico sets up jails for failure. State inmates are forced to be housed in county run jails with counties forced to foot the bill.
It also means that a jail which is not equipped or able to afford programs to reintegrate felons into society is saddled with long term housing of felons. Exactly the type of housing a prison is designed for. The legislature refuses to address these problems because it would mean increasing State Corrections costs considerably. As more and more jails bankrupt county budgets you are going to see increased pressure on legislatures from the local governments to do something about this. Remember all politics is local and legislators have to run in their local districts and more and more roads, libraries and other local services are suffering because of jail costs.
Ok, this is one of my longer blog posts and I tend to go off on tangents where jails are concerned. It is an issue which both intrigues me and incenses me. We have a lot of dedicated people in Santa Fe County who really care about the jail and having a well run jail that has meaningful programs. We just struggle because of costs and burdens saddled on local governments by law firms who take advantage and the state government.
.....One final note, I do have some really good friends who are attorneys so on thier behalf I offer this disclaimer.
*** Nothing in this blog is meant to label all attorneys and any remarks which resemble attorneys living or deceased is purely coincidental, accidental or on purpose depending on which portion of this disclaimer stands up in court.