Partisanship threatens to derail bipartisan criminal justice reform bills




The state seal for Arizona
The state seal for Arizona on a door into the House of Representatives at the Capitol. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy Arizona Mirror

Our democracy rests upon a system of checks and balances. The whole point is to prevent concentrations of power in one or a few persons that thwart the will of the people. Yet that is exactly what we are witnessing with respect to criminal justice reform here in Arizona.

Throughout last summer and into the fall, a bipartisan group of legislators and a diverse group of stakeholders – representing a range of political views, from Americans for Prosperity to the ACLU – met regularly to hammer out drafts of criminal justice reform bills.

Our goal? Despite our many differences, we are committed to bring down Arizona’s fourth-highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate and abysmal 39-percent recidivism rate.

The result was exactly what proponents of more bipartisan policy solutions to Arizona’s most pressing problems have called for: A package of common-sense criminal justice reform bills with broad stakeholder buy-in.  

When Republican legislators stepped forward to sponsor the bills, hopes ran high that Arizona would join Texas, Utah and other states in revising criminal justice policies to replace an ineffective “tough-on-crime” approach with effective policies to rehabilitate offenders and reduce the size of the Arizona’s corrections budget.

Among the bipartisan priorities are:

HB 2270 (Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake), which addresses Arizona’s harsh requirement that all prisoners serve 85 percent of their sentence by enabling prisoners who complete prison education and treatment programs to reduce the length of their sentence. The federal government stopped providing prison grants to states based on truth in sentencing in 2001, and Arizona is the last state in the country with the unusually harsh 85-percent requirement.  

HB 2362 (Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria), which provides a judge with the discretion to seal a defendant’s criminal record upon the defendant’s successful petition and completion of his or her sentence or probation. Violent offenses and dangerous crimes against children are not eligible for expungement.  

HB 2245 (Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria), which provides for judicial discretion to reduce a mandatory minimum sentence.

But what the participants in these bipartisan efforts did not anticipate was a small handful powerful legislative committee chairs – with support from an equally small handful of influential county prosecutors – who are now blocking the bills from going forward.  With only one more regularly scheduled committee hearing remaining this legislative session, only one of the package of reform bills has been placed on a House Judiciary Committee agenda by its chairman, Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix.

This means that, unless Allen agrees to hear his Republican colleagues’ bills on that last agenda, the will of the voters to take up criminal justice reform will be thwarted for yet another year.

This isn’t the way representative government in a democracy is supposed to work. The actions of the few in power are not supposed to block the bipartisan will of the many on an issue with broad public support.  Four out of five registered voters in Arizona believe it is important to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated and only one percent want to spend additional tax dollars on jails and prisons.

A picture rarely gets any clearer than that. But at the Arizona Legislature, it looks like it’s the same old, same old. So far, the people haven’t been heard on this issue. If you are sick and tired of that, let your lawmakers know today.   

4 COMMENTS

  1. This is some BS, what they want to pay more then 1.1 billion dollars for non violent criminals, all I know is that I will never vote for them again!! Go ahead and break the hearts of many, many children, wives and husbands! Let them stay on welfare that the state pays out!! Mr. Allen PLEASE LET THIS BILL HAVE A HEARING, PLEASE!!! this is just wrong!!! I think we all should just quit our jobs and let the state take care of us which would not be a good job because they only care about the monies, them selfish and not the American people!!! Again this is just BS! They are not God! Keep letting out the violent criminals so ya all can prosecute again and again, while the non violent ones have to stay in there because your all idiot’s. I will not vote again. Thank you

  2. This is ridiculous, they are not even giving the bill a chance to be read and thought out. Why should Arizona be the only states that keeps 85% of their prison sentence? What is the difference from any other state? He is not giving anything a chance and is being stubborn. 1.1 billion dollars just on prisons?!? That is a ridiculous amount of money.

  3. God help you and give you mercy , if you don’t HB2270 to be heard. Or maybe the same mercy you are giving to the families of prisoners and the prisoners who deserve a fair shake.

  4. We need HB2270 to be heard give family opportunities to be together instead of separating giving too much time .Families are hurting by being single parents and not getting the help they need by having these man encarcerated just sitting there wasting time and not giving the help they need does not help our society.Give these people a chance to help there love ones and be with there family what a waste of money 1.1 billions dollars just on prisons.Please let this bill have a hearing.

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