Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

State should note Wisconsin youth offender study

In 1995, the Wisconsin Legislature established a program to study and, ideally, cut recidivism among the toughest of its youthful offenders — those who had committed homicide. Of the group of 200 that was given a year of specially designed therapeutic exercises and games, as well as designated ways to consider the consequences of their actions, not one resorted to homicide again.

Eight percent of the Wisconsin group’s untreated peers did kill again.

Now consider that:

New Mexico has had more than its share of violent teens who have shot, stabbed or run over their parents, their grandparents, people they robbed, people they passed on the street, classmates and neighbors.

Researchers from New Mexico’s Mind Research Network have pinpointed with an 81 percent degree of accuracy differences in MRI brain scans of adolescent killers when compared to those who have not taken a life — reduced gray matter in the deep regions that process emotions and regulate impulses, suggesting delayed development.

For every $10,000 a state invests in a Wisconsin-like program, it saves an estimated $70,000 over four years — in addition to the lives spared.

Kent Kiehl, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and law at the University of New Mexico, the executive science officer at the Mind Research Network and the lead author of “Abnormal Brain Structure in Youth Who Commit Homicide,” is hopeful this science will help drive programs like Wisconsin’s that intercede in children’s lives and reduce or even prevent violent crimes.

If the Wisconsin example proves nothing else, it’s that it is possible to not only save public money but reduce human suffering among potential victims and assailants.

It’s an equation New Mexico’s leaders in the Legislature and Governor’s Office should explore.

— Albuquerque Journal