District Attorney’s Office creates criminal justice program for Capital, Santa Fe high schools | Education

First Judicial District Attorney’s Office employees, spurred by rising youth crime figures, have developed a pilot program aimed at teaching Santa Fe Public Schools high schoolers about New Mexico’s criminal justice system.

“I’m sure you all know there’s been kind of an uptick in some gang activity and violence, particularly around Capital High School, but we are seeing it at Santa Fe [High] as well,” First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said at a Thursday night school board meeting. “This was our idea to try and combat that.”

The eight-week program will focus on issues such as gun crimes, domestic violence and intoxicated driving. It likely will begin at the end of this school year in Capital and Santa Fe high schools, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Carmack-Altwies’ office hopes the curriculum, dubbed The Life Project, helps pave the way for longer-term programming across the First Judicial District that would eventually land in Española, Los Alamos and Pojoaque schools.

The curriculum will begin with an introduction to the District Attorney’s Office and each week will focus on another topic, with a rotating set of guest speakers from the Albuquerque-based Violence Intervention Program and various law enforcement agencies.

“I like to look at it as a wheel,” said District Attorney Special Agent William Perdue Jr. on Thursday. “The idea behind this program is we can circle them around with outreach, and then [we], as well as our law enforcement partners, are being proactive with intervention and enforcement.”

Perdue and District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Franchesca Perdue, his sibling, have been developing the program for three months, Carmack-Altwies said.

The District Attorney’s Office has asked law enforcement officers engaging in the program not to wear uniforms in schools.

“We don’t want it to be a place where [students] feel like they can’t open up or they can’t share their experiences because they’re scared law enforcement is there and they might get in trouble,” Franchesca Perdue said.

Crystal Ybarra, the district’s chief equity, diversity and engagement officer, said the partnership began after a group of stakeholders met at Capital High School ahead of winter break to address “a number of issues” involving campus teens.

In November, The New Mexican reported 14 Santa Fe-area teens had been arrested on suspicion of gun-related offenses in 2021. The month prior, a shooting involving one teenager and two young adults led to a lockdown at Capital High School.

Administrators at Capital High will likely have freshmen participate in the pilot program, while Santa Fe High administrators are considering the programming for sophomores or seniors.

Franchesca Perdue said the District Attorney’s Office has received feedback requesting programming for younger students as well.

“We felt this was the age group that really needed involvement and engagement and a presence on campus, so that way we could be there for them …” she said of focusing on high schoolers.

Board member Sarah Boses and board Vice President Rudy Garcia, who both represent Capital High School, expressed support for the program Thursday night.

“It makes me happy-sad because it’s well-needed in that area of town,” Garcia said.

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