De-escalating the 40-year-old War on Drugs » Albuquerque Journal


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Practically 40 years after the Battle on Medicine started, drug crimes and dependancy charges are nonetheless rising. In 1st Judicial District Court docket, felony drug possession makes up a few third of all courtroom circumstances.

District Lawyer Mary Carmack-Altwies

Between folks biking out and in of the courtroom system, and the judicial assets wanted to prosecute these crimes, 1st Judicial District Lawyer Mary Carmack-Altwies knew she wanted to do one thing in another way.

“I come from a prison protection background, and what I noticed working after I was a prison protection lawyer was when folks … bought supplied assist,” she mentioned. “Whether or not that’s therapy or whether or not … they should go to a group service.”


When she took workplace in January, Carmack-Altwies used her prosecutorial discretion to implement a coverage to finish the felony prosecution of drug possession circumstances. As an alternative, she instructed her workplace to divert incoming drug possession circumstances to therapy and group service applications.

For present fees, her workplace will try to plead the circumstances right down to misdemeanors. This coverage doesn’t apply to drug trafficking or drug distribution circumstances.

“I’m simply attempting to have a look at issues otherwise and determine how we will prosecute smarter than what we’ve been doing,” she mentioned. “I ran for this workplace on a diversion and high quality prosecution over amount prosecution.”

Chief Public Defender Ben Baur

Chief Public Defender Ben Baur mentioned he thinks the coverage change is artistic and forward- pondering. He mentioned it’s necessary to deal with drug possession and dependancy as extra of a public well being subject, fairly than one among incarceration.

Each Baur and Carmack-Altwies mentioned some drug possession circumstances contain individuals who have extraordinarily small quantities of medication, typically even simply residue.

“Sending folks to jail really doesn’t assist public security; it may be extra of a risk to public security as a result of it places folks into the system, into jails and prisons, who in any other case wouldn’t have been,” Baur mentioned.

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, has been attempting to implement this transformation statewide for the previous two years. In 2019, Candelaria proposed a invoice that will de-felonize drug possession crimes statewide, nevertheless it didn’t go. He mentioned he plans to introduce this invoice once more when the Senate reconvenes on Monday.

As a queer particular person of shade, Candelaria mentioned he noticed the battle on medication play out in his neighborhood rising up. He noticed communities of shade disproportionately affected and over-criminalized by the battle on medication – even his circle of relatives members.

On the top of the drug battle, the Legislature thought, like most legislatures, that the way in which to deal with drug dependancy was to punish folks and cost them with felonies, Candelaria mentioned. All this finally ends up doing is costing the judiciary system some huge cash and it doesn’t clear up the underlying downside, he mentioned.

“As a lawyer, one of many issues that occurs when you’ve got a consumer who’s convicted of a felony is that they bear type of a civil dying on this nation,” he mentioned. “Though you could full your sentence as a felon, you continue to carry that mark.”

Candelaria mentioned he’s cautiously optimistic about his invoice turning into regulation this 12 months. He mentioned he doesn’t consider his invoice as a partisan subject and that it has a greater likelihood of passing as a result of different states have accomplished it.

“The only particular intent of this specific invoice is to finish this actually troubling component of the battle on medication, which is making felons out of our family and friends with dependancy,” he mentioned.

For the first Judicial District, these modifications are already underway. To assist implement this new diversion program, Carmack-Altwies’s workplace employed Assistant District Lawyer Morgan Wooden. She is tasked with all incoming drug possession circumstances, after which working with prosecutors and protection attorneys to provide you with a plan to assist the particular person.

She mentioned it’s a collaborative effort and the particular person must be keen to take part. The diversion program helps them by providing help and setting targets for his or her particular wants.

If it’s somebody’s first felony cost, it may be a minor factor, Wooden mentioned. The diversion program can assist catch individuals who may be happening the highway to greater crimes, and get them out of the system.

On the streets, Sgt. Jeremy Apodaca mentioned the Española Police Division is open to the change as a result of the previous system wasn’t working. He mentioned about half the arrests the division makes cope with drug possession.

“The offender might not find yourself getting the assistance they should get away from the medication, they may simply find yourself changing into a quantity within the system,” he mentioned. “After which they’re certain to repeat the identical course of another time.”

Apodaca mentioned he doesn’t consider everybody arrested for drug possession intends to commit a criminal offense. He mentioned the drug residue they’ve on them is only a by-product of their dependancy.

He mentioned the division seen that when folks arrested for drug possession are given therapy as an alternative of incarceration, police seldom see them once more. This provides folks the chance to turn into a contributing member of society and have a distinct final result in life, he mentioned.

With this new coverage, Carmack-Altwies mentioned she hopes to see repeat offender charges go down. She mentioned there’s no technique to know for sure how a lot of an affect the coverage can have on that, however even when it goes down by 10% to twenty%, she’ll rely that as a win.

“Loads of occasions, these folks find yourself staying addicted, not solely as a result of they didn’t get assist, however (additionally) as a result of should you saddled them with a felony conviction, there are all types of collateral penalties,” she mentioned. “That leaves folks with virtually no alternative however to proceed committing crimes.”


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