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NM high court creates commission to improve response to mental health issues


The New Mexico Supreme Court in April created a permanent commission to improve how the justice system responds to people experiencing mental health-related issues.

The New Mexico Commission on Mental Health and Competency will include representatives of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, tribal governments, advocates for behavioral health services and housing, those with a life experience in mental health issues, and criminal justice system partners – law enforcement, prosecutors and defense counsel, the court said in a news release.

"The commission will develop a roadmap for New Mexico to better meet the behavioral health needs of adults and juveniles who come into contact with our state judicial system," said Justice Briana Zamora, who will serve as the court's liaison to the commission.

“The creation of this Judicial Commission is a great step forward for New Mexico and has never been more critical,” said K. Lynn Gallagher, director of the City of Las Cruces Quality of Life Department and the former secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health. “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half of the people incarcerated today throughout the United State are affected by one or more mental health issues. And New Mexico spends multiple millions of dollars annually to incarcerate people who probably should have been diverted using programs such as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) or placed into treatment facilities, like crisis triage centers. I hope the design and makeup of the group includes multigenerational, diverse, and statewide representation to ensure that evidence-based, best practice approaches are considered for this growing, vulnerable group of individuals in all parts of our state.  Building partnerships and pathways to better health outcomes is always important,” Gallagher said.

"The commission can foster a collaborative response in our courts and communities to effectively and fairly respond to those with mental health issues," said Supreme Court Justice Michael Vigil.

The commission will have a broad range of responsibilities, including reviewing policies and procedures concerning a person's competency to stand trial and considering how to better identify people in need of mental health treatment before they enter the justice system. The commission also is to explore ways of expanding the behavioral health resources available in communities and courts statewide, particularly in underserved communities and rural areas.

In an April 8 order, the court stated that the commission’s “objectives shall be to promote fair treatment of affected individuals, to improve public safety through appropriate and meaningful behavioral health interventions, and to provide proper education and training to judges, lawyers, court staff and cross-system partners at the intersection of behavioral health and criminal justice.”

The court will appoint the commission's 17 voting members and is encouraging participation by other groups and governmental organizations as ex-officio members, including the New Mexico chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the New Mexico Human Services Department's Behavioral Health Services Division, the state Children, Youth and Families Department’s Behavioral Health Division, the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute, the state Department of Corrections, state Indian Affairs Department, state Department of Veterans Services and New Mexico Association of Counties.

The court is seeking applicants for the commission.

Applicants should send a letter of interest to Supreme Court Chief Clerk Elizabeth Garcia by email to nmsupremecourtclerk@nmcourts.gov, by fax to 505-827-4837 or by first-class mail to P.O. Box 848, Santa Fe, NM 87504.

Applicants should limit their letters to two pages, indicate which position they are seeking and describe (1) why they wish to serve on the commission, (2) what they bring to the commission and (3) their professional experience with mental health and competency issues.

Letters of interest should be submitted no later than 5 p.m. Friday, May 27.

The court has several permanent commissions working on justice system issues, including the Commission on Access to Justice and the Children's Court Improvement Commission.