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What’s going on with N.M. governor’s public health order when it comes to CYFD?

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What’s going on with N.M. governor’s public health order when it comes to CYFD?

Sep 26, 2023 | 7:05 am ET
By Danielle Prokop
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What’s going on with N.M. governor’s public health order when it comes to CYFD?
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The state seal in the rotunda of the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (Photo by Liam DeBonis for Source NM)

While controversy and a federal judge’s ruling followed portions of the New Mexico public health emergency issued two weeks ago, the efforts around juvenile programs have received little attention and remain in effect.

A single line in the order directed the Children Youth and Families Department to immediately suspend the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, and “evaluate juvenile probation protocols.”

Jessica Preston, an acting spokesperson for the agency, told Source NM the significant change would be that the CYFD’s Juvenile Justice Division recommending any minors who possessed a firearm “in the commission of delinquent crime” to be detained.Preston wrote, “the decision to override the risk intake instrument for delinquent crimes with firearms immediately detainable,” was justified.

In other words, CYFD will recommend detention for minors possessing a firearm during the commission of the crime, Preston said, “whether or not the firearm was used in the crime.”

CYFD uses a risk assessment tool to determine if a minor should be held in detention by evaluating factors such as the use of a weapon in an alleged crime, violent offense, age, disability and others. In its 2022 Juvenile Justice program report, CYFD notes that this tool referred 793 minors for detention, about 66% of the 1,185 screenings.

In 2022, six minors were detained for the unlawful possession of a handgun, while another fourteen were ranked “not detained.” However, CYFD data showed that 32% of those “not detain” recommendations by the tool could be overridden by a CYFD official.

No one from CYFD’s Juvenile Justice Division was available for an interview to clarify the changes, Preston said. Preston did not answer a question regarding who exactly requested the change to agency procedures saying it was “added as a collaboration between the Governor’s Office and CYFD.”

All the changes are internal, and there’s been no formal communication to outside stakeholders – which include county detention facilities, district attorneys and law enforcement, Preston said.

The New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender, which may defend minors charged in delinquent cases, said its understanding after informal talks with CYFD means defense attorneys expect no changes because of the new policy.

“Despite what it sounds like in the wording of this order, it does not change the process our clients go through upon arrest,” wrote public defender spokesperson Maggie Shepard. “We are not anticipating any changes to our operation.”

Shepard said public defenders were concerned about the potential for civil rights violations.“We have to acknowledge that keeping children locked in jail will not solve our community’s problems,” she wrote. “Juvenile gun crime does demand attention, but the focus should be on drastically expanding gun violence and prevention education in our schools and communities.”

The public health order directive to potentially increase the number of jailed minors runs contrary to what’s proven to work in youth in foster care and juvenile justice systems, , said Ezra Spitzer, the executive director at NMCAN.

“Data about juvenile crime and diversion is very clear and the Governor’s order ignores all of it and will likely have the opposite effect she intended,” Spitzer said in an email. “While I appreciate the Governor’s anger about gun violence, I think there was opportunity to find real solutions driven by data, instead of what was done.”

N.M. public health order isn’t only about guns

What’s happened in the past two weeks?

Since the order was issued, Preston said six out of 17 minors referred to CYFD were detained “by override to account for the relevant factor of firearm possession.”

CYFD could not provide how many minors used firearms, and how many were detained in prior years.

“We are in the process of compiling this specific data and will follow up with you when it is complete,” Preston told Source NM.

Most children who are arrested are not committed to juvenile detention facilities. Of the 5,628 referrals in fiscal year 2021, 70% of them were handled “informally” by referring students for services.

The number of crimes, and minors referred to CYFD has declined in recent years, according to a June report by the Legislative Finance Committee – which said was partially attributed to CYFD’s focus since 2008 on “shifting away from punitive modes of justice toward more rehabilitative, evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism.”

In fiscal year 2022, judges committed less than 1% of minors – just 67 –  to serve time in secure facilities, according to the annual report released by CYFD. The data does not accurately reflect how many of those children were armed with a firearm. Only two minors were committed for unlawful possession of a handgun.

More than 25% of children who are committed to juvenile detention facilities are for violations of parole. Only 2.5% or just 15 of those violations in fiscal year 2022 were for weapons violations (it’s unclear how many of those were firearms). Most parole violations include incorrect residency information, use of drugs and alcohol, according to CYFD’s 2022 data.

Detention by the numbers

There are four county detention facilities that can be used to detain minors in the state – Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Lea and San Juan counties.

There are also three secure facilities that children can be sentenced to: the John Paul Taylor Center, San Juan Juvenile Detention Center (under contract for ten beds, but using none in 2022) and Youth Diagnostic and Development Center. The Camino Nuevo Youth Center closed in January 2022.

Bernalillo County: 78 max bed capacity

Doña Ana County: 50 max bed capacity

Lea County: 32 max bed capacity

San Juan County: 40 max bed capacity

In 2022, the overall capacity at the secure facilities and one contracted facility was 262 beds (although staff capacity number could have been smaller). The average daily population at the security facilities in 2022 was 85 minors.**