by AFSC-AZ Staff |
Today, we learned that the courts upheld the invalidation of citizen petition signatures by the Arizona Secretary of State and County Recorders, thereby removing the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety initiative from the November ballot. This widely supported and much-needed citizens’ initiative, which received more than 350,000 petition signatures, would have updated Arizona’s decades-old sentencing and Earned Release Credit (ERC) structure and other draconian policies responsible for our state consistently having one of the top-five highest incarceration rates in the country and inflicting lifelong trauma upon tens of thousands of individuals and families every year.
Throughout this process, the campaign jumped through every hurdle, compounded by the difficulties in collecting signatures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the outpouring of support from the community – including all of us at American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ) – this initiative was struck down by nitpicky regulations and, especially, the special interests of a powerful few. This is not how a democracy is supposed to work.
It comes as no surprise that the same entrenched interests that have blocked sentencing reform at the state legislature went to extreme lengths to keep this initiative off the ballot. The architect of Arizona’s punitive criminal laws, Steve Twist, enlisted the same cast of characters (prosecutors and self-proclaimed “victims’ advocates”) and spent freely to preserve his legacy of mass incarceration.
Why would Twist and his enablers work so hard and spend so much money in this desperate bid to keep Second Chances off the ballot? Because they know that when sentencing reform is put before the voters of Arizona, WE WILL WIN. They know that the vast majority of people in this state understand that the system is broken and that change is inevitable. They saw the power of our movement, and they fear it.
We understand that this news is painful and disheartening. It is incredibly hard to take the risk to have hope, to put your faith and your possible futures into something that is so far out of your control. Many of AFSC-AZ’s supporters worked extremely hard, on their own time, during a pandemic to help advance this initiative. We know this is not the first time they have been disappointed by the failure of reform efforts in Arizona. We share their heartbreak and anger, we grieve with them, and we are deeply sorry that we were not able to help get this initiative on the ballot.
But we are not giving up until we reach our goal. Until families are reunited, until we have a system that addresses trauma and harm without causing more trauma and harm, and until our loved ones are free, we will not stop. We will learn from this and get better, grow stronger, and WE WILL WIN. Giving up is not an option – we owe it to all the people impacted by this system to keep trying until we succeed.
The process of pursuing this initiative has provided a strong foundation for the work required moving forward. We have built a strong and diverse coalition of support, led by those directly impacted by the system. We have recruited new allies throughout this process. We have educated people about the need for change, generated substantial media coverage, and grown vast networks of volunteers. We are more organized than ever. We are ready for this battle. We have awakened the sleeping giant of Arizonans who see the truth and want to do something about it. We have the power in numbers.
Looking ahead to the 2021 session, AFSC-AZ will continue to lead the charge for legislation that addresses comprehensive sentencing reform. With the guidance of our ReFraming Justice Leadership team, we will continue to bring in directly impacted people and new constituent support gained in the last few months, and leverage the organizational collaborations we have gained during the ballot initiative process. We will continue to work on legislation and push our elected leadership to support sentencing reform. We are dismayed by the result of this voter initiative, but we are not defeated. Change is coming.