A controversy is heating up between local youth groups and the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) over plans to relocate its probation and parole offices. Earlier this month, a group of teens from Warehouse 508, a youth arts education and entertainment venue, took to the corner of Lomas and First Street NW toting signs that blared “Criminals & Kids Don't Mix” and “Keep Kids Safe.”
These teens and their adult supporters were picketing over the state's plan to buy the Plaza Maya building in Downtown Albuquerque and turn it into a reporting center for the roughly 4,000 to 6,000 probationers and parolees the Department supervises in the area each month for crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder. The picketers said the move is a bad idea because it creates an unsafe environment for more than 1,500 teens and adolescents who attend classes and events at Warehouse 508.
“I can't say all criminals or all the sex offenders, but it is just a handful of those people that could cause major issues for the young people that come down to First Street,” said Andy Braman, executive director of New Mexico Extreme Sports, the company the City contracts to run Warehouse 508.
These teens and their adult supporters were picketing over the state's plan to buy the Plaza Maya building in Downtown Albuquerque and turn it into a reporting center for the roughly 4,000 to 6,000 probationers and parolees the Department supervises in the area each month for crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder.
But some feel the protest is unnecessary and could cause additional problems for the thousands of felons reentering society. Frankie Leyba has been on probation or parole since he walked out of prison a conditionally free man more than four years ago, after serving three years for armed robbery and assault. Leyba, a single father of a 12-year-old son, said he and others have had difficulties transitioning from prisoner to productive citizen because of attitudes similar to the intolerance displayed by the demonstrators.
“It's like getting re-convicted in society's eyes because you already lost the battle before you even get started,” Leyba said. “If you are looking for a job or an apartment, somebody who is willing to give you a second chance might change their mind once they see the protesters.”
Ann Edenfield of Wings of Life, a local nonprofit that has helped hundreds of former prisoners reintegrate into society as productive citizens, said she supports the move because it would streamline the reentry process by housing many valuable resources under one roof. Edenfield emphasized the positive aspects of the consolidation. “Our returning citizens don't have to go chasing all over town to try and get services they need to become productive citizens,” she said.
Ann Edenfield of Wings of Life, a local nonprofit that has helped hundreds of former prisoners reintegrate into society as productive citizens, said she supports the move because it would streamline the reentry process by housing many valuable resources under one roof.
Warehouse 508 Executive Director April Freeman said the goal of the campaign is to keep kids safe on First Street and in doing so, this message tends to give the wrong impression. “I completely agree with this standpoint—that our message tends to be one of intolerance—and that maybe we should be focusing on the Department of Corrections because we aren't here to judge anybody. We are not here to alienate anybody, because we have young people here who are on probation,” Freeman said.
The kids of Warehouse 508 aren't the only opponents of the move who have had run-ins with the law. According to court records, a September trial date has been set for Steve Paternoster, CEO of the YMCA of Central New Mexico, one of the relocation's chief critics. Paternoster was arrested and charged with aggravated DWI after police say he blew more than twice the legal limit during a May traffic stop near San Mateo and I-40. Paternoster didn't respond to the Alibi's requests for comment.
Braman said he doesn't mind stirring up public outrage in order to keep his kids safe. He often refers to the 2003 case of convicted pedophile Dominic Akers—who raped and murdered a 16-year-old Santa Fe girl attending a concert in Downtown Albuquerque—as the impetus behind his fight to stop the move. Braman said he would rack up $1 million in legal fees to keep the parole office from opening, and he believes his failure to do so could mean the end of Warehouse 508.
New Mexico General Services Department spokesman Tim Korte said the Plaza Maya building was the only building of 15 surveyed possibilities that fulfilled the Corrections Department’s needs for consolidating its Albuquerque offices.
“I have to do that because I am not gonna have what happened 10 years ago happen to any of my kids. I have to be proactive to keep my kids safe,” Braman said. “Nothing may happen, but you know what is gonna happen: The program of Warehouse 508—that the city has put millions of dollars into—is not going to be at this location anymore. It may be gone. ... like dust in the wind.”
NMCD spokesperson Alex Tomlin said the department has been proactive in reaching out to Braman and others who oppose the consolidation efforts to assure them the department has taken their concerns into consideration. Once the building opens, sex offenders will no longer have to report in person, she said. “Because of some of the concerns we've had, we actually have gone back and changed policy. The sex offenders will not be coming to this building,” Tomlin said. “Right now the majority of [convicted sex offender] contact is made out in the field anyway, so now they will make all contact out in the field.”
The Department has not yet published an updated version of its case management policy to reflect supervision changes for sex offenders. According to the current published policy, a sex offender is initially supervised by the Department's intensive supervision program. This means that a sex offender must report to their probation or parole officer *bi-weekly for the phases one and two and once a month for phases three and four.
Braman and Paternoster aren't the only ones publicly speaking out against the move. Chris Baca, Youth Development Inc. president and CEO along with State Rep. Rick Miera (D) have objected to the move because they feel it is bad for both the youth-serving programs in the area and the recent area revitalization.
“We are trying to clean up the Downtown area and just bringing in that kind of business, for lack of a better word, encouraged by the state of New Mexico doesn't help that area whatsoever. I am totally opposed to it. There could've been a better place to find [a new location], and there was no need for us to even move what we have right now,” Miera said.
New Mexico General Services Department spokesman Tim Korte said the Plaza Maya building was the best building of 15 surveyed possibilities that fulfilled the Corrections Department’s needs for consolidating its Albuquerque offices. If the sale is approved, the Department will be able to move in approximately one year after renovations start. The move is expected to save the state nearly $9 million over 15 years.