Florence, AZ – Pinal County Attorney James P. Walsh announced his opposition to initiatives coined as “sentencing reform” or “prison reform,” aiming to release convicted criminals early.
“Our current system works,” Walsh said. “For the first time in recent history crime rates are decreasing in a sustained way.”
A follow up on the March 2010 in depth report Prisoners in Arizona: A Profile of the Inmate Population states that: “Following growth of approximately 106 per month over a 38-year period, the population has dropped by an average of 31 per month over the last 26 months.” The original report was commissioned by Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) in November 2009.
The current system is the result of changes put in place in 1994 with the Truth in Sentencing initiative. Since then, a convicted criminal serves at least 85% of the sentence, removing uncertainty about the actual length of time served. Before 1994, convicted felons could be given a 10-year sentence in one county, but the offender could be out in five years. In other counties, the same offence could be given probation.
“Current efforts to revert to pre-1994 policies can be very damaging. Why should we tinker with something that works and produces positive results?” Walsh asked.
According to the report, over 95 percent of Arizona inmates are either violent or repeat felony offenders or both. The report offers an accurate, comprehensive and vivid portrait of our state’s prison inmates and counters the erroneous belief that many of the inmates in Arizona’s state prisons are first-time or non-violent offenders.
Past statements of both critics and advocates of the Arizona system of corrections have often been based on anecdotal evidence. This study was commissioned to put an end to that speculation.
The follow up was necessary at a time of state budget cuts. Arizona Department of Corrections represents about 12 percent of the state budget (about one billion dollars) and may be vulnerable to cuts which may lead to an early release program.
“Law enforcement officials – police, sheriffs, prosecutors – work hard to take violent and repetitive criminals off the streets,” Walsh said. “This report confirms that those behind bars are the ones most likely to endanger our communities.”
According to the report, the current incarceration policy has prevented more than a million additional crimes since 1994 and is also certainly one reason Arizona has seen a greater drop in crime than the nation as a whole.
“The people of Arizona need to have accurate information about the makeup of the prison population before any major policy decisions are made,” Walsh said.