Students’ research used to stem reincarceration rates

Las Vegas, NM – The number of former inmates who return to jail at the San Miguel County Detention Center could be reduced thanks to research by New Mexico Highlands social work students.

The graduate students conducted a feasibility study to assess the need for a proposed 12-bed adult reintegration center. The center would be the first facility of its kind in northeastern New Mexico to provide substance abuse treatment and other services on-site to inmates.

“In our region of New Mexico, we have significant inequalities in access to health care, social supports, employment, and substance abuse treatment,” said Pat Leahan, project coordinator for the Health Impact Assessment team for the initiative. “With the proposed adult reintegration center, we are focusing on reducing recidivism, addiction and violence.”

The proposed center would provide an array of services for substance abuse, mental health disorders, general education, and more.

“The students’ interviews with the detainees gave the team a rich source for developing recommendations to help shape future programming,” said Leahan, a former social work professor who founded and directs the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center.

Jana Brown is one of the students working on the research project. She said the qualitative research component involved face-to-face interviews with detainees, their family members, and others, while the quantitative data was derived from written surveys.

“The majority of the people we interviewed were in support of the reintegration center proposal, felt it was greatly needed, and that it would benefit our community,” Brown said. “The data is nearly compiled for the final report, which will be presented at the Oct. 14 San Miguel County Commissioner meeting.”

Brown said it was both valuable and rewarding to gain qualitative and quantitative research experience working on a collaborative community project.

The Santa Fe Community Foundation funded the health impact assessment, a partnership of nearly 20 community-based entities, including the San Miguel County Detention Center.

Social work professor Rey Martí­nez designed and directed the research project in conjunction with Brown and other students during last spring. When Martí­nez was seriously injured in a July car accident, his students continued the research.

“The big picture for the reintegration center is, in time, to reduce crime rates and substance abuse in our community,” said Kimberly Blea, director of the university’s Center for Advocacy Resources Education and Support (HU-CARES). “The vision is to provide meaningful services that would help incarcerated individuals enter the community successfully after serving their sentence and not become repeat offenders.” Blea lead the university’s contribution to the assessment when Martí­nez was hospitalized.

Other MSW students involved in the research include Amanda Stang, Thomas Heine, Tina Sione, and Frankie Lee Trujillo. The students also conducted extensive literature reviews on other reintegration centers, including recidivism statistics.

“According to the San Miguel Detention Center, in any given year, recidivism ranges from 70 — 80 percent,” Leahan said. “U.S. Department of Justice data shows that reintegration centers decrease crimes, including domestic violence, while increasing public safety.”

Local recidivism statistics are comparable with national statistics. According to the National Institute of Justice, 76.6 percent of former inmates are arrested again within five years of their release.

“This project is an opportunity for our students to comprehend and apply research principles to a specific community need,” Martí­nez, said. “It’s a form of service learning where their knowledge can benefit others, which is the heart of social work.”

Martí­nez is living in Farmington, New Mexico, where he is accessing physical therapy and other services at the San Juan Regional Outpatient Rehabilitation Center.