Testimony Before Courts, Corrections, and Justice Interim Committee
Friday, August 23rd, 9am, Room 322
Rep. Gail Chasey, Co-Chair
Sen. Richard C. Martinez, Co-Chair
Good morning Madame and Mr. Co-Chair, members of the Committee. My name is Paul Gessing, I’m President of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market public research institute or think tank. We’re based in Albuquerque, NM. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this hearing.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on criminal justice issues. That said, criminal justice issues are by definition economic issues. New Mexico’s economic policies are the bread and butter issues of my organization. Criminal justice policies impact the economy in three major ways:
1. Direct spending on the criminal justice system including everything from police to prisons;
2. Foregone revenues including everything from potential taxes paid (or not paid) by those who are incarcerated or unable to find work due to their criminal records to the economic potential to tax drugs like marijuana;
3. Lost economic growth due to crime/inadequate public safety.
While I don’t consider myself an expert on criminal justice issues, I am one of the original signatories of the Right on Crime statement of principles. This statement has now received support from 54 conservative leaders across the nation.
The basic premise is that the traditional “lock em up” mentality that has historically dominated conservative thinking on crime is too expensive and lacking in effectiveness to continue without a serious re-evaluation of the goals, tactics, and fiscal implications of our criminal justice policies.
To be clear, New Mexico is historically not a state that has followed conservative criminal justice policies. Incarceration rates, for example, are far lower here than they are in most surrounding states. That does not mean that New Mexico policymakers are doing everything right or as cost-effectively as possible, it just means that “lock em up” has not been the criminal justice model in New Mexico as it has been in Texas, for example. That also doesn’t mean that policymakers in our state can’t learn something from what other states are doing on criminal justice issues.