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Study: New Mexico, Georgia had the highest prison rates in the US

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – New Mexico and Georgia — two states with some of the nation’s largest percentages of foreign-born residents in the United States — was the nation’s highest rates of inmates in county jails, according to a report made public on Wednesday by a non-partisan criminal justice reform group.

The study by the Massachusetts-based Prison policy initiative, which lobbies for reducing the U.S. prison and jail populations found that New Mexico was a prison incarceration rate of 340.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, the last year of the federal data tracking of all local prison population. Georgia had the second highest percentage in that year with 317.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Officials of the province, who supervised prisons in New Mexico and Georgia say that they have since adopted reforms that have significantly decreased the number of people who are in those prisons.

The study found that the pre-trail detentions tripled prison population growth nationwide over since 1978, said Joshua Aiken, the report of the author. He blamed most of the increase of the inmates too poor to post bail after their arrests on minor violations.

New Mexico has the largest percentage of the Spanish residents in the United States at 48 percent. About 31 percent of Georgia residents are black and one of the highest rates in the country.

New Mexico state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat and outspoken advocate of reform of the criminal justice system, was not surprised that New Mexico and Georgia had the highest rates of inmates in county jails. Both countries struggle with poverty and minority populations that are disproportionately stopped by law enforcement, ” he said.

“But it is not just the arrests and the prisons. It is the whole criminal justice system, including the courts,” Maestas said. “The inefficiency is mindboggling.”

For example, Maestas, a lawyer, said he often comes in the cases of the poor prisoners being held on minor crimes for four to six months after a first date is delayed.

Aiken said that people that are incarcerated for a longer period of time before they face trial in a high-risk goes to the prison, and later also for the more serious crimes.

“Prisons are an entry point to the criminal justice system, because it is being held in the prison for something small can have great consequences later in life,” he said.

The research, the results of which are taken from statistics of the federal Census of Prisons, prepared by the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Excluded from the study were the graves of people held in local jails for the state and the federal government.

Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Association of Counties, says the report is no longer a reflection of the state of the prison populations because many provinces have reported a decrease of the detainees since 2017.

New Mexico’s largest county, including Albuquerque, has instituted reforms to reduce the prison population, which helped decrease 48 percent from 2013 to 2017, according to data from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center.

The changes are efforts to people accused of crimes to enter resources earlier than they did in the past and earlier resolution of the hearings for defendants faced with incarceration. In some cases, the judges are allowed to seek hearings to the defendants on the costs order to avoid that they face indictments by the grand juries, which may lead to a faster plea agreements.

Schuyler Harding, a spokesman for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the county jail inmate populations in Georgia also declined since 2013, as a result of the state of criminal justice reforms.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports that the prison population decreased 3 percent compared to January 2013 to January 2017.

In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit against DeKalb County on behalf of a black teenager who was jailed because he could not afford to pay court fines and probation company fees stemming from a traffic ticket.

DeKalb County agreed in a settlement to change for the people who could not afford to pay fine and fee payments, including the training for the staff of the court and instructions for the judges who are focused on asking them to avoid sending people to prison who owe court fines but can’t pay.

The Prison Policy Initiative recommended that the member states tighten misdemeanor charges that would not be a threat to public safety in “non-jailable” offenses and to offer treatment programs instead of prison for low level offenders who struggle with addiction or mental illness.

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