Ducey ‘open-minded’ on sentencing reform

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Gov. Doug Ducey says he’s receptive to the possibility of allowing prison inmates to earn earlier releases, a key recommendation made by a legislative committee on sentencing reform.

The House Ad Hoc Committee on Earned Release Credits for Prisoners on Monday issued a set of recommendations at its sixth and final meeting, one of which was to allow inmates to earn an early release after serving 60 percent of their sentences if they take part in substance abuse, educational or other programs while behind bars. Arizona currently requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences and to serve the last 15 percent under community supervision if they participate in programming.

Ducey didn’t address the committee’s specific proposal, but said he’s open to the idea of giving prisoners an opportunity to earn an earlier release date.

“The idea that you’re presenting of providing some incentives while you’re in prison for proper behavior – nonviolence, no gang affiliation, getting your GED or industry certificate, and for that to be a way that you can, in a sense, buy down your time, is something I’m open-minded to,” Ducey told reporters on Tuesday after a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Capitol. 

“Of course, we’d want to start with nonviolent individuals and with a sense for the victim first. But I think we can do a better job at that, and I think it’s a place where the public sees the benefit, as well.”

Ducey also touted the “second chance centers” he opened in three prisons, which provide job and other training programs for inmates in an attempt to reduce recidivism. According to the governor’s office, more than 2,300 people had participated in the second chance centers through February, resulting in more than 1,400 job placements. 

“Everyone knows that I’ve had a lot of passion around reducing recidivism,” Ducey said. 

While Ducey has long advocated more second chances for people convicted of felonies, he has shown a wariness to tackle more substantive justice reform issues. 

At the urging of the Maricopa and Pima county attorneys, Ducey in June vetoed a bill that would have prohibited prosecutors from charging first-time offenders as repeat offenders. And while Ducey has emphasized efforts to reduce recidivism, he’s expressed skepticism about proposals aimed at reducing the number of people who get incarcerated in the first place. 

Still, Ducey this year signed legislation allowing low-level drug offenders who haven’t been convicted of any non-drug charges to earn an early release after serving 70 percent of their sentences.

The House committee’s proposal to allow early release after serving 60 percent of a sentence is likely to face stiff opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Even committee chairman Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, who has championed sentencing reform, was skeptical about the recommendation.