Lack of Legislative Funding Burdens Santa Fe, NM Courts For Mental Health and Drug Addiction Cases

The judicial system often plays a crucial role in the drug epidemic in the United States. Additionally, it is also frequently relied upon to provide justice in cases involving mental health issues. Despite this fact, judges throughout the country are wildly underpaid and unprotected. And, in New Mexico, judges who preside over cases involving mental health and drug issues are the most poorly paid in the country.

For this reason, among others, the Legislative Finance Committee has offered a proposition that will initiate a remedy for the situation. According to Peter Goodman, who writes on behalf of NM State KRWG/FM, the Legislative Finance Committee has recommended that the funding for New Mexico’s court system receive a boost of 3.5 percent, raising the total funding to $162.6 million from where it currently stands at $157 million. The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposal would still leave the courts with less funding than they are requesting, as the judiciary “says it needs $171.8 million this year,” according to Goodman.

Regardless of these facts, the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) wants to keep the funding for New Mexico’s courts as is.

According to the New Mexico DFA’s website, their mission is to provide fiscal advice and oversight, budget direction, and problem-solving support to the state governor, to local governments, and to agencies throughout the state. Furthermore, the DFA states that they strive to ensure that “every tax dollar is spent wisely.”

Those who oppose the DFA’s proposal to leave court funding as is may argue that their mission is not being upheld because the finances that the judicial system needs are not necessarily being allocated in the way that they believe would be best.

According to Goodman, “Court officials say [that the] DFA’s proposal would cause elimination of 458 spots in drug court programs across New Mexico.” Goodman also reports that, in response, the DFA believes that local sources “could somehow make up the difference.”

It appears as though this argument was brought forth almost two years ago, yet there has still been no resolution. In January of 2015, Astrid Galvan for the Associated Press reported in The Washington Times stating that New Mexico’s top judge, Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil, believes that “New Mexico courts are heavily overburdened and need millions more in funding.” Vigil went on to say that a “strong court system improves the well-being and safety of everyone, particularly the poor and the downtrodden, and a judiciary that is able to resolve disputes in a timely manner attracts business investment and supports economic development.”

In many cases, the poor and the downtrodden are also individuals who are suffering from drug addictions and/or mental illness. By receiving increased funding for the judicial system to provide ample support for these individuals, the lives of many could be improved. For example, as opposed to simply putting people who are battling addictions in jail, drug courts could assist them in accessing programs that could help them overcome their addictions. But without increased funding, security issues can prevent this from happening, as judges throughout New Mexico remain unprotected.

The importance of this legislature comes to light in the fact that New Mexico has been ranked number one in the country for cases of drug abuse per capita. With the prevalence of addiction and drug-related crimes occurring in New Mexico, it is imperative that proper litigation be in place to support these individuals in getting the help that they need, instead of just putting those same individuals in jail because no other options exist.

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