When should life in prison truly mean life?

New Mexico in Focus

March 31, 2017 - The New Mexico Parole Board has released just 7 percent of prison inmates sentenced to 30 years to life for capital crimes. That’s an alarmingly low rate compared to other states, and it seems to buck a state law passed in 1980 that says inmates are entitled to a fair hearing every two years after they’ve served three decades behind bars.

Our state’s “30-year lifers” include multiple murderers and people who were sentenced for killing police officers; some of them have lengthy disciplinary records in prison, too. But others had clean records before the day they killed someone, and they’ve spent their time doing exactly what the criminal justice system expects of inmates: bettering themselves. The 30-year lifer population now numbers more than 400 and has increased 15 percent since 2013.

The inmates are aging, which, studies show, means they are less likely to commit new crimes if they’re released and more likely to cost the state increasingly more money to incarcerate. But Sandy Dietz, chairwoman of the Parole Board, has amassed near-complete, unchecked power in deciding on freedom for this growing number of inmates in New Mexico.

State Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a bill in the Legislature that would’ve shifted the burden for a successful parole hearing from the inmates to the board — largely to rein in Dietz’ power. It died in committee. Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and retired Bernalillo County Sheriff’s captain, voted against the measure. This week, correspondent Jeff Proctor waded into the complex public safety, legal, moral and financial arguments surrounding the issue of the 30-year lifers with O’Neill and Rehm.

Further reading:

The Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth: Throwing Away the Key: New Mexico’s ’30-year lifers’ denied a fair shot at parole

Explore the parole grant and denial forms for New Mexico’s “30-year lifers”

The Sentencing Project: Delaying a Second Chance: The declining prospects for parole on life sentences

2 thoughts on “When should life in prison truly mean life?

  1. Since when was the New Mexico Parole Board given the right to act as God?
    Saying that lifers should never be released on parole is inhumane to some. Not everyone can be judged by the same hard fast rule. Don’t get me wrong, a cold blooded killer who has mental issues may need to stay behind bars, but not all circumstances are the same. I’ve seen people convicted of manslaughter, simply because of a bad mistake, neglecting to repair the breaks on their car and running over an innocent bystander. Does the parole board in SantaFe have the right to classify this person as a permanent residence of prison as they do a cold blooded killer who enjoys the kill? Somethings wrong! That is not Justice for everyone, only some. The people at the parole board in Santa Fe are faced with a difficult task, making difficult decisions based on only what they can see or hear, but certainly this should in no way give them the ability to treat all criminal cases regarding a murder by the same hard fast rule, and should not feel that all murders should be treated as lifers. The whole idea of parole is to give the individual in prison a way out, things that need to be worked on, so they can eventually look forward to some sort of freedom or hope. The idea of no hope is unjust, even to lifers, otherwise, you might as well put them in a gas chamber and get it over with.

  2. Im surprised by this. New mexico hands out sentences so lightly such as the case with baby brianna or the man who ran his girl friend over only getting 15 years. Im shocked that new mexico would actually be tough. Im so courious to see the sentence jessica kelly receives when shes(hopefully ) convicted of killing victoria martens. Shes one sicko who should never see the light of day again. She cant be rehabilitated.

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