The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in New Mexico

Results First Initiative in NM

An updated version of this page was created on May 20, 2014.


In September 2011, New Mexico state Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman, and Representative Luciano “Lucky” Varela, vice chair, and fellow members of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee partnered with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative to “advance the use of cost-benefit analysis to inform policy and budget decisions in New Mexico, particularly in the areas of early childhood and criminal justice.

As the fiscal management arm of the New Mexico Legislature, the committee has long used performance-based budgeting strategies and conducted in-depth policy analysis and program evaluations to inform its decisions. The committee makes budgetary recommendations to the Legislature for funding state government, higher education, and public schools. It also employs professional program evaluators to determine whether taxpayer expenditures are producing desired results and to recommend improvements in state government. New Mexico is unusual in that both the governor and a legislative panel—the Legislative Finance Committee—propose comprehensive state budgets to lawmakers.


Beginning in 2011, a team of researchers, led by Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey and Deputy Director Charles Sallee and operating under the committee’s direction, developed the New Mexico Results First model and initially focused on adult criminal justice and child welfare programs. The team partnered with the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, which provided valuable analytic support, and with the Children, Youth, and Families Department, the Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety, the Corrections Department, and the Public Education Department to collect state data. By September 2012, researchers had reported results for select adult criminal justice programs operated by the Corrections Department and for home visiting programs operated by the Human Services Department.

Cost-benefit findings

To date, the Legislative Finance Committee has released five reports using findings from the New Mexico Results First model on adult criminal justice, child welfare, and early childhood education programs to supplement evaluation reports and to answer policy questions posed by committee members and other legislators. Key findings included:

  • Reducing recidivism by 10 percent through investment in evidence-based programs could reduce prison costs by $8.3 million and victimization costs by approximately $40 million over the long term.
  • Investment in evidence-based corrections programs proven to reduce recidivism could yield returns as high as $25 for every $1 invested.
  • In fiscal year 2011, the Corrections Department discontinued two programs proven to reduce recidivism—drug courts and corrections industries—as part of budget cuts made in response to the Great Recession. Using the Results First model, the committee found that elimination of those programs resulted in a loss to the state of $2.8 million in annual benefits to taxpayers and crime victims.
  • Evidence-based programs for reducing child maltreatment could generate returns as high as $15.64 for every $1 invested and reduce child maltreatment and its recurrence by up to 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively. For example, evidence-based home visiting programs, though initially costly, would yield approximately $5 in returns for every $1 invested.

Policy impact

In its 2012 report, the committee acknowledged the role of Results First in building the evidence base for budget decisions and improving policymaking. “New Mexico along with a dozen other states is receiving technical guidance from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative for the implementation of this model. Through a better understanding of program effectiveness and cost benefit of investments, policy makers can reinvest scarce criminal justice funds toward strategies that result in reduced recidivism and increased public safety,” it said. The Legislature continues to use New Mexico Results First’s findings to inform program evaluations and to build annual legislative budget recommendations. In the past two years, the state has used the Results First approach to:

  • Direct $32.45 million to evidence-based programs that the model shows will deliver high returns for New Mexico residents.
  • Shift funds away from a program that the Corrections Department determined was ineffective to an alternative that analysis showed would produce strong outcomes.
  • Calculate “the cost of doing nothing”—the long-term costs the state will incur if current trends continue. For example, an analysis of offenders released in 2011 showed that that single cohort will cost the state $360 million over 15 years if current recidivism patterns persist.
  • Develop an inventory of recidivism-reduction programs to identify the extent to which the state is using evidence-based programs.

Next steps

The Legislative Finance Committee continues to develop the New Mexico Results First model for all available policy areas, including juvenile justice, mental health and community-based substance abuse programs serving individuals not involved with the criminal justice system, and pre-k through 12th-grade education.

To guide the development and use of the adult criminal justice component of the model, the committee, the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, members of the judiciary and the Administrative Office of the Courts, and relevant executive agencies are forming a Results First stakeholder group and executing memorandums of understanding to agree on annual data analysis timelines and deliverables and to formalize each entity’s role in collecting and analyzing data required by the model. The stakeholder group plans to meet regularly to discuss findings and share information.

Additional Resources

New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee: FY15 Budget Recommendations (January 2014)