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Advocates hope poll buoys sentencing reform efforts

By: - February 12, 2019 12:57 pm

A national organization advocating for criminal justice reform in Arizona is touting a new poll showing strong support for a host of issues being considered by the Legislature this year, including a proposal to reduce the state’s strict sentencing requirements.

FWD.us commissioned a poll by Public Opinion Strategies, a highly regarded polling firm based in Alexandria, Va., that surveyed 800 Arizonans on their attitudes about lighter prison sentences, loosening drug possession laws, pretrial detention, jailing people for probation violations and other issues.

Nearly 9-in-10 respondents said they strongly or somewhat believe most people who are sentenced to prison should be able to earn an additional 25 percent off of their sentences. Because of Arizona’s “truth in sentencing” law, inmates must currently serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

That proposed reduction of Arizona’s strict sentencing requirements is part of House Bill 2270. However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, plans to amend the legislation to exclude violent offenders. He said he believes that the bill will face more opposition if violent offenders are subject to reduced sentencing requirements.

Another bill by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, would reduce sentencing requirements only for people convicted of drug possession to 70 percent.

The FWD.us poll did not ask respondents about reducing sentencing requirements specifically for violent offenders.

Some poll results indicated that Arizonans more strongly support reduced sentences for non-violent offenders. When asked how much time inmates should be able to get cut from their sentences if they have good behavior and seek rehabilitation, 44 percent of respondents said they should be able to get 25 percent off their sentences, while 22 percent said they should be able to get half off their sentences, with 8 percent saying they’d support more than a 50-percent reduction.

When asked the same question for non-violent offenders only, support for cutting 50 percent from inmates’ sentences jumped: 36 percent said non-violent offenders should be able to cut their sentences in half, and 22 percent said they’d be willing to reduce the sentences by even more.

Emily Levett, of FWD.us, said the poll was commissioned prior to the introduction of HB 2270 and isn’t tied to the legislation. She said the poll showed continuing public support for reduced sentences, including for people convicted of violent crimes. Levett pointed to both the new poll and to a 2016 study showing support for reduced sentences, even among victims of violent crimes.

Analise Ortiz, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arizona chapter, said the poll shows that sentencing reform is more popular than Arizona lawmakers seem to believe. She pointed to momentum for reform at the federal level, noting that Congress and President Donald Trump recently passed the First Step Act, and that the president invited two ex-convicts to his State of the Union address last month.

That’s huge. But, as with many things, Arizona lawmakers are continuing to drag their feet on this critical issue,” Ortiz said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”