Second Chances Act - Arizona

FAQs: Second Chances Act

What does it do?

The initiative includes four policy priorities:

  1. Expands Arizona’s existing “earned release credit” (ERC) program by allowing people incarcerated for non-dangerous offenses to earn credits to reduce their sentence by 50% for participating in rehabilitation programs and maintaining good behavior.
  2. Restores judicial discretion in sentencing for non-dangerous offenses. Currently, Arizona’s judges are required to impose mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level felonies. The new law would allow a judge to depart from the mandatory-minimum sentencing range if, after considering all the facts, it is in the interest of justice.
  3. Amends the law to make clear that a “historical prior felony conviction” can only be used to sentence someone as a repetitive offender if the conviction occurred before the person committed the present offense (as opposed to multiple offenses committed during the same act). This change would prevent unjustly long prison sentences from being imposed on those without prior convictions for so-called “Hannah priors.”
  4. Creates a victims’ support and first responder services fund to expand services for victims of violent offenses to reduce trauma that is currently left unaddressed by the criminal justice system. This fund could also be used to provide services to first responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs who suffer PTSD from dealing with violent offenses as part of their jobs.

What is the process for getting this on the ballot?

In order to qualify for the ballot, the initiative needed to collect 237,645 signatures from qualified voters by July 2, 2020. Many signatures get invalidated due to the strict rules governing initiative petitions, so it was important to collect more than the required number of signatures. We hoped to gather 325,000 signatures; we ended up collecting more than 397,000!

Will it affect those with flat-time sentences?

Unfortunately, no. The earned release credit portion of the initiative applies only to people who are currently eligible for earned release credits, so people with flat or capital sentences will not be affected.

Is it retroactive?

Yes. The changes to the earned release credit program in the initiative apply to everyone “serving terms of imprisonment on and after its effective date,” which is January 1, 2021, provided it passes in November. This does not mean that everyone will be released immediately at the same time. ADCRR must recalculate earned release credits for everyone who is eligible to account for the new calculation of one day for every day served. The initiative provides the following deadlines for ADCRR to recalculate sentences for incarcerated people:

  • By April 1, 2021, the Department must recalculate earned time credits for everyone sentenced to 2.5 years or fewer;
  • By July 1, 2021, the Department must recalculate earned time credits for everyone sentenced to 2.5 to 4.5 years;
  • By October 1, 2021, the Department must recalculate earned time credits for everyone sentenced to 4.5 to 7.5 years;
  • And by January 1, 2022, the Department must recalculate earned time credits for everyone sentenced to more than 7.5 years.

Please note that the changes in the initiative related to restoring judicial discretion and clarifying the meaning of a “historical prior felony” only apply to cases that occur after, or are charged or pending on, the effective date, January 1, 2021.

What is a “dangerous offense”? Is that the same as a “violent” offense?

According to Arizona Revised Statutes 13-105, a “Dangerous offense” means an offense involving the discharge, use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury on another person.

In order for someone to be convicted of a “dangerous offense,” it must be alleged by the prosecutor and found beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. It is not automatic or tied to specific offense categories.

How does judicial discretion in sentencing work?

Currently, judges are bound by laws that proscribe sentencing ranges for each crime. These ranges start with a mandatory minimum sentence and can increase to a maximum or an even greater aggravated sentence. The sentence that the judge imposes is determined by the mitigating and aggravating factors in each case.

The judicial discretion component of the Second Chances ballot initiative would allow a judge to sentence someone below the mandatory-minimum sentence in the interest of justice. For example, if a person is a first-time offender or suffers from a substance abuse disorder or mental health disease, the judge could take that into account to reduce the sentence below the mandatory minimum.

The Second Chances ballot initiative will only allow a judge to decrease the sentence, not increase it.

Why is there funding for victim’s services?

We know that the vast majority of people in prison have experienced abuse and violent trauma in their lives, and many are survivors of crime themselves. Without effective treatment, such trauma can lead directly to substance abuse and other behavioral issues that increase the chances someone ends up in prison.

This new fund would expand the types of services offered under victims’ services to provide counseling, support, and comprehensive services on an individualized basis in an effort to heal and reduce trauma. This holistic approach can aid in individual and community healing and potentially reduce crime in the future.

When does it go into effect?

If passed by the voters, it will go into effect on January 1, 2021.

I have a felony on my record and haven’t had my rights restored. How can I help get this passed if I can’t vote?

Everyone has a role to play in getting this initiative on the ballot and passed by the voters. People with convictions who are still disenfranchised CAN:

  • Give trainings and educational presentations
  • Volunteer at events, so long as they are not collecting the actual signatures. They can direct traffic, collect sign up information, and educate people about the initiative.
  • Organize events
  • Do texting and email outreach
  • Spread the word to friends and family, via social media, etc. What’s next?

The policy changes in the Second Chances ballot initiative are vital first steps to reforming Arizona’s criminal justice system, and will go far to help criminal defendant, survivors of crime, first responders, and the community at large.

But it does not go nearly far enough to restore balance to our broken criminal justice system. A statewide coalition has been working on sentencing reform in Arizona for several years and will continue to do so even after this initiative is passed.

We will continue to work with our state legislature and other institutions to continue to reduce the size and scope of the criminal punishment system, and to advocate for investment in community-based programs and services that create real safety for everyone.

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