Second Chance Center should be first goal

By Anna Crook: Guest Columnist

As a Republican legislator who has worked hard for my constituents and for the citizens of this state, I was appalled by the recent Channel 13 expose regarding the Second Chance Center in Albuquerque. It is unfortunate that some investigative reporters do not take the time to get their facts straight, and instead feed citizens fallacies about a program that I feel will be of great benefit.

Initially, as a conservative Republican, I was skeptical about the lasting effect of rehabilitation programs on offenders. Several years ago, I toured the Second Chance facility along with the National Foundation of Women Legislators, in Ensenada, Mexico and was positively overwhelmed. What I saw was a model that was drug free and used treatment stages that reflected increased levels of personal and social responsibility. The model was regimented and included job assignments, classroom study, group meetings, seminars, exercise, counseling and intense self-study programs.

I was so impressed that I became an advocate for Second Chance and its introduction into New Mexico. We as legislators are faced with urgent fiscal choices; we either appropriate for prison and jail expansion or appropriate for less costly and more effective alternatives. New Mexico’s jails’ operating budgets have increased 36.1 percent since 1998 to $113.3 million in 2005.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Data shows that a substantial number of criminals are substance addicted. We have learned that incarceration does not rehabilitate this sort of offender, but that long-term treatment can provide an effective method to transition offenders back into society in order to lead functional lives.

The Channel 13 expose stated the program is based on Scientology. This is absolutely not true. The truth is that several of the detoxification methods are based on research by L. Ron Hubbard. The program is not based on any religion, and all religions are invited to provide services on Sunday — the one day that residents are not participating in treatment programs.

The reason a portion of the appropriated funds were sent to Highlands University is because we wanted to form a collaborative with the School of Social Work to provide opportunities for intern social workers to work in the program. At least one master’s level social worker will be on staff to supervise intern social workers. The only other in-state school that provides that is New Mexico State, which is farther away in proximity than Highlands University. Considering that the Second Chance facility is in Albuquerque, this made more sense. The money appropriated, has always been intended to support their half of the collaborative.

The expose also stated that monies were “hidden” within bills. This is yet another example of an investigative reporter distorting facts and not doing homework. An Appropriations Act is a compilation of many different appropriations intended for many different uses. To read an Appropriations Act is time consuming, and it takes a great deal of effort to be able to locate a specific appropriation. No appropriations are “hidden.” The $63,000 appropriated to NMHU is in the Junior House Bill 2 (placed there by me). The $100,000 appropriated to the Department of Corrections was a dual effort by the Administration and House Leader and was placed in the Senate Capital Outlay budget.

I have worked tirelessly to form a collaborative effort with legislators from both sides of the aisle, and from both the House and Senate. My fellow legislators have not questioned the credibility of the program as they know from working with me that I am a cautious lawmaker and would never advocate a program that was not proven and would not be evaluated at the highest government level. Aside from a board of directors made up of retired judges, law enforcement officers, retired prosecutors and retired public defenders, there will be an advisory board made up of community activists that will assist in the reintegration of offenders into society. This will ensure accountability with regard to all aspects of the program.

The Second Chance Center is my No. 1 priority as a legislator and I will continue to advocate on its behalf. The Second Chance Center is good, sound, sensible policy. I firmly believe that rehabilitation is a three-legged stool consisting of prevention, intervention and treatment.

The Second Chance Center is a first step toward reducing the jail population in New Mexico, helping to curb rising criminal justice costs, and helping non-violent substance abusers become functional within society rather than being a burden to the taxpayers of this state and their families.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Curry, lives in Clovis. Contact her at 763-4108 or by e-mail:
anna.crook@nmlegis.gov