Arizona lawmakers join call for sentencing reform

Published: May 12, 2004

Respected Republican Rep. Bill Konopnicki (R -- Stafford) and Sen. Carolyn Allen (R -- Scottsdale) welcomed the release of a report blaming the growth in incarceration on Arizona's rigid mandatory sentencing laws, and they pledged to support legislation establishing a sentencing commission to study the matter.

"Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart on Crime Solutions" was Commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and released at a May 11, 2004 press conference. The report provides policymakers with the first detailed look at the state's prison population and the specific laws that fuel the current overcrowding crisis.

Authored by Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice Strategies, the report paints a portrait of a prison system packed with people convicted of non-violent and low-level offenses, disproportionate numbers of people of color and a rapidly growing population of women. The report outlines comprehensive suggestions for sentencing reform, as well as more immediate steps to reduce overcrowding and save money.

"The legislature has been struggling to find solutions to fix Arizona's broken prison system," says Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who chaired the House Sentencing Alternatives Working Group. "This report provides a road-map for addressing prison overcrowding and saving money without compromising public safety. I'm encouraging my colleagues to read the report, and I hope we will be able to act on its recommendations in the next session. We can't afford to wait for the next hostage crisis."

For media coverage of the report, see:

The Daily Star:
Editorial: The prison drain

Arizona Public Television:
Horizon: Prison Sentences

The East Valley Tribune:
Women crowd Arizona's prisons

Related Publication

JS Publication May 11, 2004

Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart On Crime Solutions

Mandatory sentencing laws fuel overcrowding, fill prisons with substance abusers

With the ninth highest rate of incarceration in the nation, Arizona has become the incarceration capital of the western United States. The rate of prison population growth in 2002 was twice the regional average and the state incarcerates women, Latinos and African Americans at higher rates than its neighbors.

Arizona's high incarceration rate is driven by a rigid mandatory sentencing system that severely restricts judges' discretion in imposing sentences and crowds prisons with non-violent substance abusers. Mandatory and lengthy "enhanced" prison terms are required for a variety of offenses, regardless of the facts in the case or the seriousness of the underlying conduct. Except in cases involving first-time defendants charged with low-level property or drug offenses, the system places all sentencing discretion in the hands of prosecutors. Read more »