Arizona’s harsh sentencing laws separate families this Father’s Day




This Sunday, my family will prepare for Father’s Day much like any other. I’ll help trace the hands of my 10-month-old son and four-year-old daughter onto a poster. I’ll buy a card and a “Best Dad Award.” But we won’t be celebrating Father’s Day with a barbecue or by the pool. Instead, my kids and I will be driving more than three hours to visit their dad in an Arizona prison.

My husband is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met – intelligent and ambitious, with so many goals in life. Like so many of us do, he made a mistake. But punishing him by forcing him to miss years of precious moments with his kids is counterproductive and cruel.

He’s missing so many of our baby boy’s “firsts”: his first time crawling, his first time feeding himself, his first steps and first words – they were “Da Da.” His father wasn’t there to hear him say that. I had to tell him over the phone.

Peils
Christopher Peil and Desirae Peil with their two children. Photo submitted by Desirae Peil

My four-year-old daughter is too young to comprehend the hole that now exists in her life. She knows her daddy’s in prison. She knows he’s in trouble for driving when he wasn’t supposed to. But she doesn’t understand how long he’ll be there or why. And frankly, I don’t understand why either.

My husband is expected to be released from prison in 2026 for aggravated DUI. Our baby will be nearly eight years old by then, and our daughter will be a pre-teen. I still can’t wrap my head around why any prosecutor would want to send him to prison for that long.

At his sentencing, the judge even agreed the sentence was excessive. But because of Arizona’s harsh sentencing structure, there was nothing he could do. The prosecutor held all the power.

Putting good people in prison for years of their life doesn’t help anyone. It only causes more damage. When we put a parent in prison, we are punishing their kids the most. They don’t understand why mommy or daddy isn’t around. They don’t get to grow up living a normal life. To spend time with their mother or father, the children themselves have to spend time in prison. We all end up serving time.

This year, I advocated at the Arizona Legislature in support of bills that would have reformed an outdated Arizona law that requires all people in prison serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, regardless of the progress they make while in prison. It gives them no opportunity to earn their way to an earlier release date. Reversing this law would have allowed my husband to come home sooner, and to be a part of our children’s lives.

Unfortunately, Arizona lawmakers have a deep misunderstanding of the way the prison system works and the trauma it causes to families like mine. In the end, they did nothing to make our criminal justice system more fair.

My family is not the only one hurting because of Arizona’s harsh and unnecessary sentencing laws. There are thousands of amazing people in prison who deserve to come home. They aren’t animals. They aren’t terrible people. They are humans, and like each and every one of us, they’ve made mistakes. And they’ve learned their lessons.

Everyone deserves a second chance. People really do change. More than 90 percent of the people in Arizona prisons right now will eventually come home. Stealing years of their lives and stripping them of their motivation to succeed once they return to society only compounds the problem.

If we want incarcerated people to be rehabilitated, we should encourage them to transform themselves by allowing them to see the light at the end of the tunnel, by giving them hope, and by doing whatever we can to keep families together.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Your introductory line is a heads up to faulty thinking. Good people are not the ones in prison. People who have done bad things are in prison. their Victims are the good people who should be with their children. those incarcerated are better off away from their children where they are only providing bad examples to them.

  2. I understand what she is saying, but consider this…my daughter, stole something and tried to resell it….hence trafficing. However, a 200.00 item, gave her a 7 and 1/2 year sentence!! harsh? Maybe not to anyone but the mother. The state of Az has been into incarcerating people for most of its existence. I don’t know why or what the reason is. NON VIOLENT offenders need a break, not a felony. Violent offenders, child crimes (hopefully not innocent people), wrongful convictions, should not be put on the back burner. Shame on AZ …… it makes this state look as backward as it is.

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