Value of special courts should be discussed

As the state of New Mexico continues to struggle with a $458 million projected budget shortfall this fiscal year — and the state’s courts deal with self-imposed cuts including a $500,000 reduction in mileage reimbursement for judges, court staff, jurors, interpreters and court-ordered witnesses — it is important to recognize that short-term savings can have long-term costs.

So the return on investment the state’s specialty courts deliver in reduced recidivism and helping defendants become productive contributing members of society should be considered.

Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Court alone has 10 specialty courts aimed at specific demographic groups — from DWI Recovery Court (recidivism rate of 5.5 percent) to Mental Health Court (which has reduced the recidivism rate by about 90 percent).

The 2nd Judicial District Court has a Veterans Court program, helping veterans through non-violent criminal cases and connecting them with support services an alternative to incarceration. Its recidivism rate for graduates is just 7 percent.

Metro Court Judge Linda Rogers has explained that the “therapeutic courts save money for merchants who deal with these crimes, for the jail, for the hospitals and, obviously, for the families of these folks.

“It also saves time for police who do not have to respond repeatedly to these call-outs. The defendant benefits the most, but we do not forget this is part of the criminal justice system.”

As the courts continue to try to work smarter in tough budget times the value of these specialty courts need to be part of the budget discussion.

— Albuquerque Journal