Gov. Doug Ducey’s ongoing commitment to reducing Arizona’s prison population by reducing recidivism doesn’t necessarily extend to criminal justice reforms that would result in fewer incarcerations in the first place.
During his first term, Ducey pushed several anti-recidivism measures, such as adding employment centers to state prisons, helping newly released inmates get jobs and by implementing a partial “ban the box” policy for hiring in state government that bars the state from asking job applicants about felony convictions until later in the hiring process.
He has said that his slogan of “opportunity for all” should apply as well to people who have served their time, and has aimed to give ex-convicts opportunities for work so they don’t end up behind bars again.
With the 2019 legislative session set to begin on Monday, Ducey is looking to continue those efforts.
But bipartisan advocates of criminal justice reform, who are planning to push a robust agenda this session, may not have much to cheer about. Ducey told the Mirror his priority will be people who are getting out of prison and making sure they have job opportunities, including by making sure they have the training, transportation and identification they need.
“I look at one side of the equation is these are people that are getting out of prison. There are people that will fulfill their debt to society this year, and those are the people that we can deal with right now,” Ducey said.
Asked whether Arizona should focus reducing its prison population by incarcerating fewer people in the first place, the governor said, “If you don’t break the law, you won’t go to prison.”
That might not bode well for several ambitious proposals that are expected to come up this session. Criminal justice reform advocates are looking to make marijuana possession, which can be charged as a felony for a first offense, a misdemeanor or lower. They want to make it easier for people to expunge felony convictions from their records. And others want to reform what they describe as Arizona’s harsh sentencing laws.
When it comes to criminal justice reforms, Ducey said he’d like to discuss any proposals with Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. Montgomery and Polk are among the most prominent and influential opponents of justice reform proposal in Arizona.
FWD.us, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming the nation’s criminal justice and immigration laws, has highlighted Arizona in a recent series of reports, noting that Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the United States.
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