ALBUQUERQUE – Legislative proposals intended to make it easier to keep certain criminal defendants in jail while awaiting trial would have done little to reduce crime, according to a study by researchers at the University of New Mexico and the Santa Fe Institute.
The findings, disseminated Tuesday by state court officials, were based on a review of more than 15,000 people charged with felonies from July 2017 through June 2021. The researchers found that more people who would not be re-arrested if allowed to remain free would instead have been jailed if lawmakers would have adopted changes to the state’s pretrial detention system.
According to the study, the proposals would have resulted in least 20 presumed innocent people being jailed to potentially prevent one individual from being arrested on a violent felony charge while awaiting trial.
“Despite the presumed intentions of policymakers, these proposals do not accurately target the small fraction of defendants who will be charged with new serious crimes if released pretrial,” the researchers said. “Instead, they cast a wide net, recommending detention for a large number of defendants who would not receive any new charges during the pretrial period.”
The study comes as New Mexico politicians continue to debate how best to address what many have described as a revolving door in the state’s criminal justice system and persistently high crime rates.
Frustration has grown among victims’ families, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for re-election.
Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Lujan Grisham supports keeping violent defendants in jail pending trial.
“This very study references nearly 100 defendants who were charged with new violent felonies while on pretrial release,” she said. “That’s nearly 100 victims and families who were subjected to violence due to an offender’s violence not being given appropriate consideration.”
The study considered a variety of factors that would be considered presumptions for pretrial detention. Those include current charges, past convictions, failures to appear at court hearings and previous violations of conditions of release.
Currently, people charged with a felony can be held without bond only if prosecutors can persuade a judge that no conditions of release would protect the public, or that a defendant is unlikely to appear in court.
Researchers found that under the current system, about 4 in 5 defendants who were released remained arrest-free pending trial.
One legislative proposal considered during the last session would have created a presumption that defendants should be held if they are charged with a serious violent offense, such as crimes involving a firearm.
According to the study, at most 8% of the defendants the researchers identified are charged pretrial with a new violent crime and at most 5% are charged with a new violent felony.
“The chances a pretrial defendant will commit a first-degree felony during their pretrial release is literally one in 1,000,” Santa Fe Institute scientist and mathematician Christopher Moore told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Moore told the Albuquerque Journal that when someone is denied bond there can be consequences to them and their families.
“They can lose jobs, housing, custody of their kids and so on,” he said. “We don’t hear about those costs as much as we hear about the terrible cases where someone is released and does do something awful.”