Thursday, November 30, 2017

New Mexico - Gangs, Recidivism and Arable Land

New Mexico Prisons
A Perpetual Challenge
The "engines of the free market" have been "unleashed" for quite a while now.
Corporate prisons? Yawn.

ALEC NM has not been much of a friend to the rehabilitation efforts one might assume were underway in New Mexico prisons. This should not surprise anyone. Recidivism among convicts turns out to be a profit center -- "career opportunity" -- for both gangs and prison guards. MeanMesa has posted on this topic previously: Fixing New Mexico's Prisons and Budget/MeanMesa .

However, a few recent thoughts on this subject have presented an interesting confluence of problems and solutions possibilities. There is little justification for once more painfully establishing the "failure state" of the current situation with New Mexico's State Prison system. Simply stated, a very reasonable metric to apply to such a system's performance is found in the dismal record of the number of inmates who return after completing their incarceration.

If this number were to be decreasing, it would be convincing evidence that the process was working successfully. The number is not decreasing. Sometimes statistics can be quite stubborn.

Still, quite removed from the "prison rehabilitation problem," New Mexico hosts a completely different challenge on another front. The state is a massively gross importer of food. Aside from the obvious threat to social sustainability, the level of importing such a large percentage of the food consumed in the state directly acerbates the local economy in a variety of ways.

Here, we can focus on a single, specific factor which "looms large" in this predicament. Soils.

Although New Mexico has an abundant supply of "available farming land" in terms of physical area, the State has wide spread, serious, "arability problems." Most of the land which is "available" physically has such poor soil conditions that actual farming possibilities are sorely limited. In terms of agricultural science this is well documented.

Further, the "reclamation" of this land to an arable state is an expensive, labor intensive process, offering a ready explanation for the reason very little has been done. New Mexico soil, generally, suffers from some common problems. While water access has been a constant challenge to agricultural expansion for years, the soil, itself, offers its own set of serious difficulties. Primary among these, while not delving too deeply into soil chemistry specifics, are the wide prevalence of hardened clay and silt soils with very low amounts of lighter organics.

MeanMesa's Solution Concept
 Prisoner Rehabilitation and Land Reclamation Possibilities

It turns out that two of the factors mentioned above may, actually, combine to provide this "confluent possibility" to greatly increase the size New Mexico's arable and available farming land. Naturally, there are more critical restraints than the simple work required for reclamation, itself. No doubt, first among these is money. Neither the State of New Mexico nor individual farming enterprises are particularly eager to make an investment of this scale justified by the rather long term and somewhat conditional business prospects of increasing arable land reserves.

But....what if some of these "expense parameters" could be mitigated by some relatively innocuous changes in the State's business practises? The always attractive possibility of "killing two birds with one stone" might be waiting right before our eyes. Let's focus on the extensive labor costs and stubborn soils conditions. Granted, progress on these two parts of the problem will still leave the financial challenges, but a functionally viable solution may still remain.

How could this work?

1. Begin by selecting some State land with enough available water but with soil conditions which cause it to not be arable. These parcels of land could be targeted as potential "pilot projects" to test both the political and the agricultural viability of the project. Even the drilling new water wells -- sponsored by State funding -- might fit into the idea in some cases.

2. Develop an appropriately scaled supply of organics from both existing community policies and new plans which could further expand the collection such material. Albuquerque currently produces large quantities of this type of material through its Solid Waste Management, but this amount could be increased if resources were allocated. The amount of organic material required to adjust the arability of the land in the selected parcels would be significant, probably larger than the amounts currently being produced.

3. The infrastructure requirements for the project will also need to be addressed. There needs to be a "lay down and storage" area near the communities collecting the organic refuse. Transportation to the selected "target" parcels would need to be organized, and, in some cases, this might require the construction of roads [gravel access roads - not highways] needed for trucks to deliver the refuse to the parcels.

Additionally, it will be necessary to provide the equipment required for the land reclamation. This might require some heavy equipment for a short duration, but the bulk of the reclamation work could be undertaken with much smaller equipment.

The parcels selected for reclamation might also require some building construction. If the prisoners involved in the program were to "live on the land" in a sort of minimum security incarceration, structures for this purpose might also be required. [Such facilities would not require additional, new prison construction. Think of a more or less self-sustaining "work camp" with food and supplies transported to the site from existing prison facilities.]

 4. Prisoners currently incarcerated in State Prisons would have to compete to receive consideration for participating in the program. MeanMesa suggests that offering an alternative to prison incarceration will provide a strong incentive, making a transfer to a work camp something many currently incarcerated prisoners would desire.

A typical reclamation program could easily require a multi-year effort with a constant, continuing necessity for reclamation work. Behavior stipulations once a prisoner was transferred, while perhaps less formal than during incarceration, would still be strict. Infractions would result in a return to prison incarceration.

Technical direction for the reclamation would be provided by New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources staff along with agricultural expertise from departments of the State colleges. Importantly, the program would require adjustments to the original plan as specific challenges emerged during the reclamation process.

5. Once reclamation had been substantially accomplished, the now arable land could be leased or sold to agricultural interests by the State. The economics involved in such a program could -- especially after some experience with initial projects -- become an expense/revenue neutral State project. Much of the expenses for the first, pilot project would not become recurring expenditures because much of the equipment and infrastructure would have already been purchased and would be available for use on new projects. 

6. Politics. The New Mexico State government is famous for resisting most new ideas. This is especially the case with the State's dismal prison system. Further, the current occupants of the Round House seem even more reluctant to consider any plan of action which actually requires directly engaged, legislative management. New Mexico State legislators seem curiously fearful of such undertakings. Designed well, this particular project might very well "survive" the customary dose of this automatic "negative thinking." It would require some stalwart determination and impressively high quality leadership, but it can be done!

Our fellow citizens who are currently behind bars deserve our very best efforts.

Can This Include An "Abstract Possibility"
Creating more than arable land

In many cases the current prison residents have been "in route" to incarceration for major parts of their lives. The environment in which they lived has been "border line criminal" for so long that such lives gradually became "normal."

Worse, time spent incarcerated in prison has often been a continuation of this same "life style." Equally unfortunate, once released from prison -- not withstanding the major efforts of the State and others to alter this life-style -- far too many, understandably, return to "what they know." [The MeanMesa blog article cited at the beginning of this post discusses New Mexico's high prisoner recidivism.]

However, MeanMesa suggests that spending some time on one of these land reclamation projects -- beyond the bars and constantly laboring on the land -- might possibly introduce a very beneficial shift in this troublesome "normal" for many of these individuals. Of course there is the "educational" opportunity to learn new work, but this more abstract possibility might offer an avenue toward more or less permanently altering that destructive "normal" into something far more promising.

Convicts released after a stint on one of these reclamation projects would not, necessarily, seek a crime free future life as agricultural workers, but, just possibly, they would have been exposed to the healing force of great nature itself.

That prospect is a very tempting one.

A very new experience for New Mexico convicts. [image]

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