New Mexico lawmakers, citing political frustrations, pull juvenile justice reform bill 

By Steve Jansen

ALBUQUERQUE — Proposed reforms to New Mexico’s juvenile sentencing rules failed to become law for a second year in a row after the bill’s sponsors pulled it, saying the legislation had been amended “beyond recognition.”

“It has been frustrating to watch as a chorus of voices was drowned out by a handful of district attorneys and other parties who have misrepresented this issue to victims of tragedy across our state,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a joint statement. 

New Mexico’s Senate Bill 43 would’ve banned life without parole for youth convicted of serious crimes and given youth serving long adult sentences a parole opportunity after 15 years. Such reforms have gained steam around the country and are also known as “second chance” bills. 

The bill passed the Senate, 23-15, on a party-line vote, but became a tug of war toward the end of the session, which ended Thursday. 

Senate Republicans, the prosecutors’ association, and the governor’s office — which pushed a tough-on-crime legislative package during the 2022 session — agreed on an amendment that would have bumped parole eligibility to 20 years instead of 15.

The amendment cost the bill its backers’ support. Some advocates were also concerned that language in the amendment could allow judges to stack sentences for youth, which could amount to life sentences.

“Negotiations on the second chance bill broke down in the final week of the session as demands for punitive concessions departed from evidence-based policy,” said Denali Wilson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and a leader of the New Mexico Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which worked on the bill.

“All children are worthy and capable of redemption, and we are proud that the sponsors of the bill rejected amendments that would have violated this truth and eroded the spirit of the legislation,” she added.

Twenty five states and the District of Columbia have passed versions of second chance legislation.

New Mexico first introduced its version during the 2021 legislative session. It came on the heels of a New Mexico Supreme Court mandate that urged lawmakers to update the state’s juvenile sentencing practices.

This story originally published Jan. 18, 2022, on Youth Today.

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