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Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart on Crime Solutions

NCJ Number
Judith Greene; Kevin Pranis; Howard R. Wine
Date Published
May 2004
70 pages
This report examines the evolution and outcomes of Arizona’s sentencing laws and reviews alternative sentencing policies that maintain the public safety while maximizing scarce budgetary resources.
Arizona’s tough sentencing laws have made it the ninth-highest ranking State for incarceration rates. Yet, the rapid expansion of prisons in the State has done little to reduce crime; Arizona has the highest index crime rate in the country. This report analyzes how Arizona’s sentencing laws have resulted in a prison explosion and explores less expensive and smarter correctional strategies. Following an introduction, the first section examines the history of sentencing laws in Arizona that have resulted in a prison overcrowding crisis in the State. Also discussed in this section are smart sentencing and correctional strategies that the State could employ to safely reduce the heavy reliance on incarceration and perhaps even reduce crime rates in the State. The second section analyzes why and how individuals are incarcerated in Arizona through an examination of Department of Corrections data. Information on Arizona’s prisoners is offered and includes data on personal characteristics, criminal records, offense of conviction, and sentences received. Data for this section were also gathered via personal interviews with more than 30 Arizona criminal justice and other professionals. The authors also reviewed academic and other research on Arizona’s criminal justice system. The third section offers recommendations for improving Arizona’s criminal justice system. The authors suggest a policy commission conduct a comprehensive review of determinate sentencing laws in the State in order to determine the cause of Arizona’s prison overcrowding crisis. Programmatic reforms should be implemented to bring the prison population growth under control. Immediate changes are presented that can be implemented to ease the sentencing crisis until the commission completes its work. Recommendations are included for easing mandatory sentencing and specific strategies are offered for dealing with drug offenses, driving under the influence, property offenses, women offenders, and offenders under probation or parole supervision. Release and re-entry recommendations are also offered and include the full funding of new early-release-to-transition programs for drug offenders. The final section presents the statutory provisions governing Arizona sentencing for felony offenders. Compiled in this section are baseline sentencing ranges and probation eligibility, sentencing enhancements, and baseline and enhanced sentencing ranges for special classes of offenders. Figures, tables