Criminal Justice Reform in Arizona

Problem

Since 1992, Arizona’s prison population has increased by 171% -- more than double the state’s population growth over the same period (75%). Today, Arizona has the 5th highest incarceration rate. Arizona’s overgrown prison population has come at quite the cost to Arizona’s taxpayers. Today the DOC budget in Arizona accounts for more than $1 Billion annually, more than double what it was in 1997 ($409 Million).

Solution

In 2008, noting the trends of the time, Arizona became the first state to implement a performance-based adult probation system. Under this system, probation departments received a share of the state’s savings that resulted from reducing incarceration rates, and used those funds to build stronger probation and parole programs. In addition, Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed a bipartisan bill looking to rein in the state’s policies on civil asset forfeiture in 2017. This legislation raised the standard of evidence required for police to seize money and property as well as expanded oversight on the spending of seized assets. "This bill will allow law enforcement to take appropriate action against drug cartels and other criminal enterprises, while ensuring citizens do not have their property seized without proper due process," Ducey said in a statement.

In 2020, two bills were introduced to reform the earned release credit system in Arizona. If passed, one bill would grant a reduced sentence upon the completion of a rehabilitation program, and the other would grant more earned release credits.

Results

With these additional funds, probation departments are now able to reinvest in victim services, drug and mental health treatment, and other programs to improve community supervision and reduce recidivism rates. Just one year after this program went into effect, Arizona saw a 13% decline in probation violations and allowed the state to avert almost $2 million in incarceration costs.

Despite the progress made in 2008, Arizona policymakers haven’t made any headway in recent years. The Department of Corrections has projected that more than 8,000 additional prison beds will be needed in the coming years if there are no further reforms. Already facing a budget crisis, this projected prison construction cost of $974 million, not including operating costs of more than $150 million a year, is nothing to gloss over. Arizona has an opportunity to bring justice to the system starting in 2020. It is time for Arizona to take a real look at reform.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.