By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Working together and not giving up on youth and those in the grasp of illegal drugs was the focus of a community forum Tuesday evening at Portales city hall.
Among the highest concerns expressed by the public during the forum was the lack of rehabilitation options available in the area.
Portales resident Viola Lovato told the panel, consisting of law enforcement, prosecution and city and county officials, she is saddened that no help is available to parents who suspect their children have a drug problem until after they’ve committed an offense.
“I feel like they need to be rehabilitated,” Lovato said. “More jails are not the answer. We do need a rehab here. Our community is full of kids on a lot of drugs.”
Portales school board member Inez Rodriguez also noted the need for rehab as well as follow-up on individuals in the court system to make sure they’re adhering to what is required of them in their sentence. Rodriguez also said she felt family values and respect were lacking in the community as well.
Sheila Savitz, who runs Angel Ministries in Portales and has battled for a treatment center in the community in the past, agreed with Rodriguez. She said teens had isolated parents in a lot of cases where in the past parents would have talked directly with the parents of the children they were hanging out with.
“We want our children to respect authority, we want our children to respect Portales police. … The only way to do that is if we work together.” Rodriguez said.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler and others on the panel and in the audience agreed with what the women said.
“That’s what we’re here for tonight, to be able to work together,” Chandler said.
Panel member Dennis Lopez, a Roosevelt County Commissioner, who is employed by Mental Health Resources, said a multi-county group had been working on the rehabilitation problem with state officials and legislators for several years. He reported that the group had gotten the best reception yet during this year’s legislature but he still felt the problem of bringing a rehab center to the eastern counties was a long way down the road.
Chandler and others described various programs in place in the community to combat a variety of problems, including Meth Watch, E-Cop, Newman Project, a graffiti removal program and Drug Court.
Officials also talked about some new programs they are looking at including ACT (Abolish crime and truancy), a program that has been successful in reducing truancy and crime in Los Angeles County, and the Scared Straight program, where offenders in the correction system talk to students.
It was Daniel Lopez, regional commander for the New Mexico State Police, who offered the group praise.
“We have an overflow of ideas and a lack of money and people to do these things,” he said. “Despite that, things are actually getting done here.”