Indian Affairs Committee wants $3 million for Attorney General work on missing and murdered Indigenous people cases

The Attorney General’s Office has made advances this year in addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP), but it needs dedicated funding from the Legislature to keep it up, Mark Probasco, deputy director of the office’s Special Prosecutions Division, told the Indian Affairs Committee on Thursday. 

The legislative committee didn’t argue, passing a motion to recommend inclusion of $3 million in the state budget for the office to continue its work on a nationwide issue that’s gained increased attention in New Mexico in recent years. 

A state task force published a response plan in May with a number of recommendations, although what legislative action might come next is unclear. 

There are at least 192 Indigenous people missing throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, according to a list the FBI last updated in October. State officials and lawmakers say that’s likely an undercount. 

Senate Bill 12, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February, created a specialist position in the AG’s Office and allocated $1 million to a grant program aimed at establishing a network to support efforts by tribal nations to identify and find Indigenous people who are missing. 

An additional $1 million for at least one full-time specialist didn’t make it into the final version of the bill. As a result, the AG’s Office has been drawing resources from other areas, Probasco told the committee. 

“It’s one thing for the state to say that it is committed towards this important work,” Probasco said. “We do the best with the resources that we do have, but the reality is that in order for us to maximize the law that has been passed and to make sure that we give these families the best chance at moving forward, it has to be better funded.” 

Since February, the office has assisted in prosecutions, helped compile the FBI list, built partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and collaborated with the New Mexico Press Association to offer training on how to humanely cover MMIP cases, Probasco said. 

Probasco pointed to the murder of Cecelia B. Finona (Diné). After being reported missing in 2019, the 59-year-old Farmington resident was found dead in 2021. 

Jerry Jay was prosecuted with help from the AG’s Office and pled guilty in September to first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder.

Legislative response unclear for missing and murdered Indigenous people task force recommendations

When Vangie Randall-Shorty’s son, 23-year-old Zachariah Juwaun Shorty, went missing in July 2020 and was found dead a few days later on the Navajo Nation, communicating with law enforcement emerged as one of the primary roadblocks to the search for answers. Most of the police officers involved in the case, which remains unsolved more than two years later, could be more compassionate and make her feel heard, says Randall-Shorty (Diné). They could at least respond when she asks for updates or tries to share potential leads. But, for the most part, they don’t. So, now, she offers support to other families with missing or murdered loved ones, some of whom get in touch with her at events held throughout the state to raise awareness and demand solutions.

Albuquerque bought site of brutal 2014 murders years ago, spurred by talk of a memorial. But the current plan is for nonprofit office space.

A fenced-off lot near the intersection of Central Avenue and 60th Street, empty except for a portable trailer, a large “no trespassing” sign, overgrown weeds and a pile of debris, marks the site of two brutal murders. 

Kee Thompson and Allison Gorman, members of the Navajo Nation experiencing homelessness, were sleeping there in July 2014 when three Albuquerque teenagers killed them. 

In the days that followed, community members created memorials at the lot, the Albuquerque Journal reported, leaving stuffed animals, candles and a handwritten sign reading: “Let us pray for our homeless people. Keep them safe from evil” and City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez suggested constructing a public memorial at the site. Thompson’s sister, Stephanie Plummer, hoped to see that proposal become a reality. But eight years later, the temporary tributes community members built are long gone and despite the city purchasing the property in 2019, there is no memorial. Current plans are for a nonprofit organization to use the site as office space. 

Peña made a very public push for a memorial at the site in 2016.

Eight years after murders, Native people still outsized share of Albuquerque homeless
Statewide, unhoused Native people appear to be dying more frequently and at younger ages than any other group. 

Eight years after brutal murders of two Diné men sleeping in a vacant lot, Native people continue to make up an outsized portion of Albuquerque’s unhoused population. And statewide, unhoused Native people appear to be dying more frequently and at younger ages than any other group. 

Newly disclosed prisoner addresses show 30% in Albuquerque. Advocates want to exclude them from political maps.

While nearly a third of New Mexico’s state prisoners who disclosed where they were living prior to incarceration gave Albuquerque addresses, in the country’s once-a-decade census they’re counted as living in smaller towns and rural areas.Roughly a quarter of New Mexico’s population lives in Albuquerque, so it’s no surprise to find a prevalence of residents from New Mexico’s largest city in the corrections system.But corrections data obtained by New Mexico In Depth suggest the city’s voting power is diffused to smaller towns and rural areas where New Mexico’s prisons are, a practice criminal justice reform advocates refer to as “prison gerrymandering.” That’s where prison communities — often rural, and nationally, more white — benefit as prisoners from elsewhere increase their populations without being able to vote. Advocates are pushing New Mexico to end the practice in coming months as the state’s new Citizen Redistricting Committee, and state lawmakers, participate in a once-a-decade redistricting that will shape New Mexico’s political landscape for years to come. 

And at least one says the last addresses inmates give corrections officials as they enter prison could achieve that goal.The ideal solution would be for the Corrections Department to hand over the same records it gave to New Mexico In Depth to the Citizen Redistricting Committee, said Mario Jimenez, campaign director of Common Cause New Mexico. If the committee were to request those records, the Corrections Department “would absolutely share that with them,” spokesman Eric Harrison wrote in an email. 

Samantha Osaki, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said ending the practice of counting prisoners in the areas they’re imprisoned would create a more equitable redistricting process.“Bernalillo County residents who are already suffering from the loss of parents, friends and neighbors due to mass incarceration then doubly suffer from the loss of political representation,” Osaki said. New Mexico In Depth obtained the last addresses of 5,082 inmates after filing a records request. The Corrections Department initially refused to disclose the information but turned the records over after the New Mexico Attorney General’s office found the department had denied the request improperly.

Redistricting: Advocates want prisoners counted where they’re from, not incarcerated

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts the population to determine how places have grown or shrunk, how people have moved, and how the composition of communities have changed.  

The consequences are large. New political districts from the local to the national level are formed based on the census figures. Some states pick up new congressional districts. Some communities gain or lose representation in their statehouses. The head count also determines how much money a community might receive from a range of government programs. 

Some say one practice of the census — counting prisoners as residents of the places they are incarcerated — results in an unfair transfer of political power away from those prisoners’ home communities.

Push to end private prisons stymied by concerns for local economies

Three years ago, New Mexico incarcerated about 7,400 people. Since then, the prison population has dropped, mirroring a national trend. It’s estimated that by 2025 the average prison population could be 4,938. The reasons for the declining prison population are unclear, according to a report prepared by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico for the New Mexico Sentencing Commission.  

But if that trend continues, legislative analysts say, the Department of Corrections would have to find just 456 new beds, on average, if New Mexico were to end the use of private prisons after more than two decades and transfer all privately held prisoners to public facilities by 2025.The statistic is buried in a legislative analysis prepared for lawmakers considering legislation introduced by Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, the latest attempt to end New Mexico’s use of private prisons.

Midwifery presents important avenue for fighting health disparities

Hill with her granddaughter. (Courtesy of Nandi Andrea Hill)

When Nandi Andrea Hill got pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted to have a home birth but couldn’t find a midwife, so she turned to her mother who coached her to have a natural birth without medical interventions. They planned to go to the hospital for the delivery itself, but the baby came faster than they expected. 

“I ended up birthing her at home unplanned with paramedics that came rushing in my room, eight men. They didn’t catch her, she flew out and she did wonderful. They took me to the hospital, but literally when I was putting her up on my chest—I was in culinary arts—I said I need to be a midwife.