Pay up or lockup: Housing shortage kept cash-poor parolees behind bars

David, 28, was counting the days until January 6, 2012, when his prison sentence would end and he would be released on parole. He had earned his GED diploma inside and lined up some job options in construction and landscaping around Albuquerque. But the date came and went, and still the state kept him locked up. 

The problem was housing. There was only one halfway house in the state that would take an inmate like David — a convicted sex offender — and it had a long waiting list. If he wanted to get a bed there anytime soon, David would have to buy his freedom — in cash. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished here with permission.

Domestic violence shelters have no shortage of beds, but reports of abuse are on the rise

Kinsey Moores steeled her nerves and tried to appear unruffled as she worked intake at Albuquerque’s S.A.F.E House this week. Picking up a pair of gloves from a dwindling supply of donated PPE (personal protective equipment), she reached for a thermometer and asked the now-routine question asked of every person seeking help at the city’s largest domestic violence shelter. 

“Have you experienced any kind of dry cough or fever?” 

“I just have to keep a smile on my face and show that we’re here to help, we’re not going to turn anybody away,” said Moores, 22, who started her job last August after graduating from the Child and Family Studies program at the University of New Mexico. “One of the hardest things is just coming in to work with a mindset that everything is going to be OK, we’re going to get through this.”

Across New Mexico, domestic violence survivors and the shelters that serve them are confronting a new and uncertain landscape brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Stay-at-home orders have effectively kept victims inside with their abusers, depriving them of a safe time and place to call for help. It couldn’t have come at a more ominous time.

Blood for money

Fernando D., a 35-year-old father of two has crossed the border from Juárez to El Paso to donate blood plasma twice a week, every week, for two years straight. He has a dark scar on both arms where the needle pricks, but he considers it a small price to pay for the $400 a month he earns “donating” plasma in the U.S.

The money helps feed his family. “I have so many expenses,” he said. “I have to fix my truck. I have to pay the bills of the house.

Criminalizing disability: Special-needs kids who don’t get help in school are winding up in jail

It was right after the fifth-period bell last October that Sebastian Montano lay face down in the grass outside Alamogordo High School, screaming for his mother, as two police officers pinned him to the ground and thrust a Taser in his back. Moments earlier, a staff member had called police after learning that the 16-year-old, a special needs student who’d recently dropped out, was now trespassing on school grounds. A shy teenager with light brown hair and big green eyes, Sebastian was well known to staff and students at Alamogordo High. He had a long and messy school history, including 16 documented run-ins with school police officers — all in relation to behaviors associated with his disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, epilepsy, and ADHD. But he was also a boy who showed great promise.

A family changed by gun violence offers case study in New Mexico’s domestic violence problem

July 17 is the best of days in the Gaytan household, because it marks the birthday of 12-year-old Ian, who lives with his grandparents in a doublewide mobile home on a dirt road in Española. And July 17 is the worst of days, because it marks the anniversary of the shooting death of his 20-year-old mother, Jasmine Gaytan, at the hands of his father, Leroy Fresquez, Jr.

It
has been left to Olga Gaytan, a 55-year-old immigrant from
Guanajuato, Mexico, to make sense of the contradictions. “People
say I’m his grandma, but I always say ‘No, I’m his mother,’”
said Gaytan, who stepped in and adopted her grandson following the
2009 murder of her daughter. Jasmine
and Leroy had known each other ever since their days at Carlos F.
Vigil Middle School, the same school Ian now attends. It is the
school where the two of them met, and the school from which they both
dropped out in seventh grade.

Lujan Grisham’s choice of Education Secretary will send big message

In the coming days, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take the first major step to fulfill her sweeping campaign promises on education – appointing a secretary to lead New Mexico’s troubled Public Education Department. Her choice will speak volumes – not only about her approach to education but also about her commitment to reform in a state that is primed for change. With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor-elect is in a position to address what many regard as New Mexico’s gravest problem: the fact that it sits at rock bottom in national rankings of student achievement. The state is under court order to fix a school funding system that was struck down as unconstitutional for its failure to provide adequate resources for at-risk students. So the choice of the new secretary will speak worlds about the degree to which Lujan Grisham intends to follow through on her pledge to “build a Pre-K-through-grade-12 education system that works for every single student and family.”

Oh Susana! How governor’s popularity eroded

In 2010, three Western states elected governors who immediately generated national buzz. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was the first Latino elected governor of Nevada. John Hickenlooper, who campaigned as a Democratic centrist in the midst of a Tea Party wave, was elected in Colorado. And in New Mexico, Republican Susana Martinez became the nation’s first Latina governor. All three proved popular in their first terms and easily won re-election.

New Mexico’s home visiting puzzle

Despite strong evidence that home visiting promotes healthy families and children, state officials have diverted millions of dollars from the program in order to fund child care assistance, according to documents obtained by Searchlight New Mexico. Since 2016, the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has moved a total of nearly $12 million earmarked for home visiting into child care assistance, saying the reallocation is necessary to meet the rising costs of child care. Among all the early childhood programs, child care assistance is the state flagship, helping tens of thousands of working New Mexico families care for their children. Officials shifted the funds from one pot to another because the state’s network of home-visiting providers, on the whole, failed to spend all the available money. “There’s a misconception out there that because we’re focused on childcare assistance, we’re not focused on home visiting, and that’s not true at all,” CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said.

Lawsuit: New Mexico is wrongly denying child care benefits

Five New Mexico residents are suing the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), claiming the state is effectively cheating eligible low-income families out of money to pay for child care. According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in First Judicial District court in Santa Fe by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (CLP), CYFD is handing out child care assistance based on secretly formulated rules without clearly defined eligibility requirements, in violation of the state constitution. CLP brought the suit on behalf of five residents whose applications for child care assistance were denied. Olé, an Albuquerque-based community organizing group, is also a plaintiff. The complaint names Secretary Monique Jacobson, in her official capacity, as defendant.

Border cleaves husband from wife – and a father from his children

EL PASO, Texas and VALLE DE JUÁREZ, Mexico – Gabriela Castañeda and Adrián Hernández were lovestruck teenagers when, in 2002, they crossed the border to start a life together far from the violence-plagued valley east of Ciudad Juárez. They never imagined the border would one day keep them apart. The two made a home for themselves in a colonia east of El Paso — Adrián working construction for big U.S. homebuilders, Gabriela keeping house and raising their growing family. But driving long distances to work left Adrián exposed. He picked up traffic violations that led to deportations.