Arizona Should Pass Crime-Reducing, Cost-Saving Criminal Justice Bill Before Session Ends

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021, 2:07 PM PERMALINK

Arizona legislators and Governor Ducey are working hard to pass the largest tax cut in state history, a massive win for the state’s hardworking families and businesses.

As that legislation is approved, time remains to get a major plank of criminal justice reform passed: Senate Bill 1064, which expands the state's earned release credits program.

Earned release credits allow someone to complete programming that teaches them job skills, treats addiction, or mental health issues, and more. The goal is to address problems that are more likely to prevent someone from working and contributing to society, or even drive them to re-offend. This reduces crime and improves safety, while offering second chances to those who do the work and earn them.

The alternative has been doing next-to-nothing with offenders who are going to get out of prison one day no matter what.

These are commonsense, conservative policies that work to keep people out of trouble. This ultimately improves public safety and reduces costs to taxpayers at the same time. Just look at the results other states have had.

South Carolina expanded their earned release credits, along with other changes, seeing declines in reoffending (-5.6%), and prison population (-14.5%), from 2010-2017.

Kentucky saw its recidivism rate fall (-5.3%), and its prison population fall (-23%) since 2011 reforms.

In 2008 and 2013, Mississippi significantly curtailed truth-in-sentencing requirements that effectively limited the ability of offenders to earn credits off their sentence. The results have been falling rates of violent crime, a decrease in property crime, to go along with a smaller prison population.

In addition to these great examples of successful red state reforms, the federal government is still in the process of implementing the First STEP Act – earned release credit legislation passed under President Trump.  

These reforms are improvements to the criminal justice system that put public safety first. Credits incentivize people, largely non-violent drug offenders, to do the work necessary to get ready for their imminent release from prison so they can contribute to society.

It’s no surprise that this is a drastic improvement over the status quo. Since the vast majority of people in prison are going to get out one day, it is no-brainer level stuff to address the problems that can drive them to re-offend. Mainly these are addiction problems, and not having a decent job.

In the end, this also boosts public safety as millions of taxpayer dollars are saved which can then be reinvested in the system, with a focus on policies and programming that improve public safety. Arizona Senate Bill 1064 could save more than $600 million that would otherwise be spent in ways that do not optimally protect the public.

The bill is a conservative approach to this policy. As ATR President Grover Norquist wrote in the Arizona Capitol Times:

"These are smart on crime policies that will make better use of taxpayer dollars, they also remain tough on crime. Earned release credits will be expanded only for drug offenders, and low-level offenders, not traffickers. Bad behavior will take away any credits an offender has earned. For any crimes with victims, victims’ rights are maintained by the bill. Ultimately, reductions in crime and recidivism will mean there are fewer future victims."

Governor Ducey, and legislators in the House and Senate have already done great work enacting civil asset forfeiture reform, and ending driver’s license suspension for owed court debt. These are key improvements to Arizona’s criminal justice system. SB 1064 remains a major priority that can still get done before the buzzer sounds.

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