Commentary

Arizona needs prosecutors who seek justice instead of racking up ‘wins’

July 11, 2022 7:11 am

Public domain image via Pxfuel.com

I am a third-generation Arizonan, a father of two sons, a musician and a paralegal. I am the executive director of a statewide non-profit organization. I am also formerly incarcerated.

During the 15 years I spent in Arizona prisons, I spent every day talking to fellow prisoners about their cases and looking at their case documents. I spoke to hundreds of men convicted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. So many of the stories are the same: Maricopa County prosecutors exploited every advantage they possessed under the law, and some outside the law, to maximize what they consider a “win” – putting people in prison for excessively long sentences without consideration for what type of rehabilitation or support would prepare them for a healthier and more productive life afterwards and without consideration to the cost to taxpayers, families, or victims.

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In my case, I was sentenced to a cumulative total of 19 years based on two sets of convictions for nonviolent offenses. I spent a total of 15 years in incarceration from February 2003 until January 2005 and October 2005 to August 2018 — an extraordinary amount of time to spend in prison for nonviolent offenses. The longest sentence I received, 14 years, was for one count of aggravated identity theft, a class 3 felony. I signed a plea agreement that alleged one prior felony conviction, which placed me in a sentencing category where the presumptive sentence was 6.5 years. In this plea agreement, I was compelled to agree to an “enhanced” sentence of no less than 9 years.

But this was not enough for the MCAO. Despite agreeing to an enhanced sentence, the prosecutor asked the court sentence me to the maximum of 14 years. In fact, I would have faced a 25 year maximum sentence for a non-violent crime if I did not enter into the plea agreement, illustrating the role of coercion in the plea agreement process under MCAO.

And why? Because in 2005 and still today, MCAO’s outdated, counterproductive mindset says the more people in jail, the better, regardless of how much it costs taxpayers and how little it has to do safety and justice writ large.

What benefit did it bring to the citizens of Maricopa County to pay for me to sit in prison for twice as long as what the public had agreed was the appropriate sentence for the crime I committed?

There was no benefit to public safety, just enormous cost to the taxpayer. Instead of appropriately holding me accountable, ensuring I received the necessary treatment and skills to become sober and re-enter society as a productive member, my case, and I as a human being, were used to pad the “win” column of a prosecutorial agency.

Instead of doing a reasonable sentence and re-entering the workforce, Arizona taxpayers were charged on average anywhere from $21,000 to $40,000 a year to house me in a broken prison system that is failing so miserably the recidivism rate is above 50% while substance-abuse treatment is reaching only about 2% of inmates, despite ADCRR stating explicitly that 84.3% of inmates assessed at intake have significant substance abuse histories.

The Maricopa County attorney enjoys unparalleled authority and discretion. That’s why we need a Maricopa County attorney who is focused on protecting the vulnerable, holding law breakers to account appropriately, and using the office to create a more just and safe society. Instead, what we have had for the last 40 years is a set of Maricopa County attorneys that failed to protect the vulnerable, over prosecuted marginalized segments of our society and ballooned our prison system to the point where it is systemically failing in nearly every metric — including public safety.

It’s time we elect a county attorney that uses evidence-based best practices to make justice accessible to all, not just some, in our community. One who sets policies that maximize public safety while ensuring the system delivers justice – not merely cronyism, oppression and racism. One who won’t continue the office’s practice of over-sentencing non-violent offenders (unless they’re her friends), ignoring thousands of sexual assault victims, and illegally inventing fake charges to imprison peaceful protestors. It’s time we elect someone with new ideas, not someone who has spent decades as a member of the corrupt inner circle at MCAO.

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John Fabricius
John Fabricius

John Fabricius is a third-generation Arizonan and works as a directly impacted advocate for criminal justice reform in Arizona and abroad. John is the Digital Campaigner-JUSTICE for Dream Corps and the Executive Director of Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections, an Arizona nonprofit working to create independent, external oversight of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

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