Big Idea: Bipartisan criminal justice reform group has been created in the House, to look at modernizing criminal laws.
What you need to know:
- Arizona’s strict drug laws need reform
- Arizona may be seeing more options for addiction recovery in the future
- Limiting jail time for addicts can save millions of dollars
- Criminal justice reform wanted by both Democrats and Republicans
- American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) are huge allies to this movement
Arizona is home to some of the strictest drug sentencing laws in the entire country.
With the 4th largest incarceration rate in the nation and the highest incarceration rate in the western states, Arizona spends roughly $1 billion each year on corrections alone.
Roughly 11% of the general fund goes to covering the costs of incarceration, which makes up a massive portion of Arizona’s spending.
Although the violent crime rate reduced by over 22% between 2000 and 2015, the prison population increased by over 59%.
In the Arizona House of Representatives, Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Kirsten Engel have established a criminal justice reform group for the purpose of evaluating these issues and creating new legislation to modernize the state’s laws.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is one of several organizations that are collaborating with the criminal justice reform group. The AFSC has determined one of the root causes of Arizona’s high incarceration rates: inconsistent, strict, and outdated drug laws.
Caroline Isaacs, the program director for the AFSC, believes that it is time for Arizona to start treating addiction as a disease, rather than a crime.
“Nationally, there is a much more robust conversation going on about these issues than ever before. Most states have realized that the ‘get tough on crime’ initiative is not working,” Isaacs said. “They have looked at these evidence-based solutions in order to get better outcomes. I think that helps with the people who believe that ‘oh, this is some sort of liberal plot to let criminals out on the street!’ No, the Newt Gingrichs of the world are supporting this initiative.”
Arizona is the only state in the union where possession of marijuana is considered a felony. It also has a severe lack of treatment programs for repeated drug users and a 50.5% recidivism rate.
Drug crimes are one of the largest offenses in Arizona, making up 11.35% of all arrests in 2015. A significant portion of these arrests result in mandatory sentencing, which prevents convicts from being eligible for probation.
“Felony convictions are incredibly detrimental to people’s lives. These can prevent people from finding a job, buying a house, or even continuing their education,” Isaacs said.
The AFSC, along with several other experts in the criminal justice field, believe that providing support for addicts is the only way to lead them towards recovery.
“Once you make a behavior illegal, you get to apply this label to people - you get to call them criminals. Then, they are forever viewed as inherently bad people,” Isaacs said. “This label of ‘criminal’ carries a whole lot of baggage. It implies that they’re dangerous, when most people with addiction are only dangerous to themselves. They need our help, and our sympathy. When your child, or your brother, is given this label of ‘criminal’, you can see the damage that this label does. We are all more than the biggest mistake we have ever made.”
Fixing these problems can potentially save Arizona millions of dollars and help addicts find the road to recovery.
All statistics were provided by the American Friends Service Committee research report. If you would like to learn more about criminal justice reform and drug sentencing laws in Arizona, feel free to take a look at the report in the following link: https://afscarizona.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/drug-sentencing-in-arizona-prescription-for-failure.pdf