Arizona has some of the most restrictive sentencing laws in the country, with every person who is incarcerated required to serve a minimum 85 percent of his or her sentence – regardless of good behavior. This has resulted in a bloated prison population and massive state prison spending. AFSC Arizona is working to reduce the state prison population through policy change.
Deferred prosecution and other diversion programs at county and city levels are allowing certain defendants to avoid incarceration by undergoing treatment for drug addictions, mental illness (in some municipalities) and other conditions. AFSC recognizes these programs, but continues to work to expand them throughout the state, particularly for those with behavioral health issues that contribute to criminal behavior. Not only do these programs contain costs, but they also reduce future crime, thus making the public safer.
• AFSC Arizona has a vision for Reducing Corrections Costs and is working with statewide stakeholders in order to affect change that makes everyone safer and saves money in the process.
• AFSC Arizona helped launch the Arizona Justice Alliance, a statewide sentencing reform coalition made up of stakeholders including: child welfare and mental health advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, membership organizations such as the NAACP and ACLU Arizona, faith groups, academics, and service providers. AJA’s overall goal is to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated in Arizona’s jails and prisons through sentencing reform.
• Legislating smart solutions to reducing incarceration: During the 2013 legislative session, AFSC successfully advocated for legislation to direct the Administrative Office of the Courts to coordinate an evaluation of the state’s mental health courts, and secured an appropriation to fund the evaluation. The completed evaluation will identify standards for these courts. These standards still will allow individual courts to tailor their operations to their specific jurisdictions.
• AFSC is closely following another bill, House Bill 2307, through the 2014 session. This bill allows the creation of a deferred prosecution fund in each county that implements expanded diversion programs. Funding could come from state, federal, county, foundation or other private sources.
• In partnership with Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, AFSC Arizona published Turning the Corner: Opportunities for Effective Sentencing and Correctional Practices in Arizona (2011), by Judith Greene.