New Mexico News Port, a student journalism lab at the University of New Mexico, recently published multiple stories in their Justice New Mexico series in partnership with the Criminal Justice Project. Justice New Mexico is a spring 2017 project exploring criminal justice issues and the stories of diverse communities across the state of New Mexico.
Led by University of New Mexico Communications & Journalism Department professor Mike Marcotte, the school was also able to conduct a class on criminal and juvenile justice issues in the state.
"The CJ Project has really stimulated some great activity in our journalism curriculum. The biggest thing was that we were able to launch a 'Covering Criminal Justice Issues' topics course in which students delved deep into courts and corrections — and how the media intersects with these institutions. The course allowed us to bring in many local experts and included an amazing field trip to our county jail," Marcotte said.
One story published by the News Port looks into the experiences of Ere Maldonado, a former inmate who got involved with Fathers Building Futures (FBF), an organization partnering with the local New Mexican non-profit PB&J Family Services to help formerly incarcerated fathers. When he was ready to start his life over, Maldonado describes the difficult times he faced trying to support his family while struggling to look for employment. However, through his dedicated work with FBF, Maldonado was eventually able to secure full-time employment with the organization as the lead of their mobile crew.
"Life Behind Bars: Working as a Correctional Officer" looks into the working life of a correctional officer and the emotional turmoils of the job. Wes Hathoot [pictured right], a correctional officer at Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), the largest local jail in New Mexico, says, "You never really feel like you have a life other than there. It kind of makes you feel like you're an inmate." According to the most recent data from the New Mexico Corrections Department 2014-2015 Annual Report, the turnover rate for correctional officers is just over eight percent, which is an all-time high in New Mexico.
Another story highlights a resource center for victims of domestic violence as domestic violence convictions in the state drop to a low despite a steady number of cases. Gail Starr [pictured left], head nurse and clinical coordinator for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), an organization located adjacent to the Domestic Violence Resource Center (DVRC), says that up to 44% of SANE's patients have experienced strangulation. However, New Mexico is one of nine states in the U.S. that do not recognize strangulation as an official felony offense.
According to the National Institute of Corrections 2015 report on crime, the crime rate in the state of New Mexico is about 54% higher than the national average. Discussing the outcome of the student work and the stories produced, Professor Mike Marcotte says, "We’re delighted to have the CJ Project team in our midst and look forward to working with them more in the year ahead. [...] Our goal is to teach to a modern, professional standard so it helps to have more professionals and more real-world reporting integrated into our program."
View videos below by students of the New Mexico News Port:
"Fathers Building Futures: Local Organization Helps Formerly Incarcerated Fathers"
By Angela Shen, Melorie Begay, Lauren Nitschke
"Wings for Life Helps Families Break Cycle of Incarceration"
Reporting by John Acosta and Brenna Kelley; Edited by John Acosta
Photo of Wes Hathhoot by Natalie Baca and photo of Gail Starr by Christian Marquez
Cover photo taken from "Collective Helps NM Families Break Cycle of Incarceration" by John Acosta and Brenna Kelley