On January 11th, AFSC-AZ and other members of Arizona’s bipartisan coalition on criminal justice reform joined Right on Crime for a breakfast briefing that included Republican and Democrat members from both the House and the Senate. More than 100 people attended, sharing experiences and insights. Attendees chatted about current policies that intensify criminal justice issues in Arizona and exacerbate impact on low-income individuals and families, and the slate of bills being introduced create a more efficient, equitable, and effective criminal justice structure in Arizona.
Right on Crime is taking the lead on a set of four bills, written by a the left/right coalition, were designed to reduce the burden of fines, fees, and other court-imposed obligations on low-income people. They are based on recommendations from the Fair Justice Task Force convened by the state Supreme Court.
The bills include:
HB2312 an expansion of the current Arizona set-aside statute, allowing certain felony convictions to be “sealed” (i.e. not made public) to aid in housing and employment opportunities. Law enforcement would still have access to all records.
HB2313 allowing for mitigation of certain fines and fees that place an undue burden on people who are low income and increase the likelihood they can comply with court orders.
HB2314 allowing judges to have discretion in misdemeanor sentences so a person can have community service, education and/or treatment in place of probation or incarceration.
HB2169 permits the court to restrict, rather than suspend, a person’s driver license as a sanction for non-major traffic offenses, and failure to pay a civil traffic penalty. Allowing defendants to keep their drivers’ license helps them maintain employment, get to their court-required appointments, and meet other obligations.
AFSC-AZ staff also shared information on HB2303, a modernization of Arizona’s outdated and ineffective drug laws. This bill allows for people charged with drug possession who are experiencing addiction to receive less severe punishment and be directed to evidence-based treatment instead of an ineffective and expensive prison sentences.
The bill is informed by our ground-breaking report released in August 2017, Drug Sentencing in Arizona: A Prescription for Failure. In case you missed it, you can read that report here.
Conversations were dynamic and demonstrated a heightened level of interest in sentencing reform across parties and legislative districts. Senator Sonny Borelli (R-District 5) shared a story about a ride-along with law enforcement that led to a low-level drug offender being detained, his car impounded, and officers spending almost three hours filling out paperwork instead of being out on patrol.
“Are we fixing the problem? Or are we making it worse?…We need to work together to have this make sense.”
–Senator Sonny Borelli
Also in attendance were Reps. Kristen Engle (D-District 10) and David Stringer (R-District 1), who are heading up a bipartisan study group on criminal justice reform.
This kind of collaborative work is so important, especially with the new report from the Bureau of Justice statistics released two days before the breakfast, noting that Arizona has now gone up to the state with the 4th highest incarceration rate in the US.
As the real work begins, AFSC-AZ and coalition partners encourage you to make your voice heard. Be sure to follow up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up to date on criminal justice bills and civic actions you can take to help pass these imperative reforms, and sign up for our mailing list here.