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Mandatory Sentencing Fuels Prison Overcrowding

Families Suggest 'Smart On Crime' Solutions

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A Families Against Mandatory Minimums in-depth analysis of the impact of Arizona's sentencing laws finds that the state's rigid mandatory sentencing laws fill prison cells and cost millions while doing little to enhance public safety.

"Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart on Crime Solutions" finds that rigid mandatory sentencing laws are largely to blame for the growth in incarceration of non-violent offenders, who make up over half of all prisoners. According to a FAMM news release, one in four prisoners are serving time for a property offense, one in five for a drug offense, and one in 12 for driving under the influence (DUI).

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 noted criminal justice researchers Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice Strategies, the report paints a portrait of a prison system packed with non-violent and low-level offenders, including substance abusers, disproportionate numbers of people of color and a rapidly growing population of women.

Immediate Steps Needed

The report also outlines comprehensive suggestions for sentencing reform and 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. We can't afford to wait for the next hostage crisis."

"After 25 years, the verdict is clear: Arizona's mandatory sentencing laws do not enhance public safety and the certainly do not deliver justice," says Judge Rudy Gerber, who helped author the 1978 criminal code that established mandatory sentencing. "In my 22 years on the bench, I was forced to sentence far too many people to prison when treatment, community service and restitution to victims would have been more appropriate."

Arizona Experience All Too Common

According to the report, Arizona stands in stark contrast to neighboring states and is out-of-step with a national trend toward "smart-on-crime" solutions to prison overcrowding and mounting corrections costs. Although Arizona's incarceration rate leads the west, Arizona has had less success in reducing crime than its neighbors.

"Arizona's experience with mandatory sentencing is all too common: more and more state policymakers are discovering that mandatory sentences tie the hands of judges, send the wrong people to prison, and waste valuable dollars on non-violent offenders" says Laura Sager, executive director of FAMM. "Like other states, Arizona should consider smart-on-crime solutions to focus scarce correctional resources on more serious offenders, while giving judges the authority to hold non-violent and low-level offenders accountable in community based sanctions."

The full report is available online at Justice Strategiest. More information may be obtained from the Families Against Mandatory Minimums web site.

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