Subject: Sentencing Bills Legislative Newsletter from Cecil Ash - 2/11/11
Date: Friday, February 11, 2011, 5:22 PM
As you know, last year I was appointed chair of the House Interim Committee on Sentencing Reform, and I had numerous meetings with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation officers, and advocates for victims and inmates. As a result of these meetings, I planned to introduce some bills this session based on the recommendations of the stakeholders workgroup that was formed from that committee.
One of the things I learned is that prison is not only the most expensive option at reducing crime and lowering recidivism for low-level nonviolent offenders, but it is also the least effective option. In the research material brought to the interim committee, I discovered that the State of Washington has approximately the same population as Arizona , yet Washington has only 18,000 inmates while Arizona has over 40,000. Since Arizona spends about $22,800/yr per inmate ($949 million/yr), that raised the question for me: Are we wasting taxpayer money by incarcerating so many more people than Washington does? This question led me to try to ascertain why there is such a significant difference between two Western states with similar populations, and then, to look at our sentencing policies in Arizona .
I have seen cases where “required” sentencing statutes, while well-intentioned, have sometimes been too severe, and caused more of an injustice than justice. Many judges agree with me. I have come to believe we are incarcerating too many nondangerous people in our prisons who would do better on probation or home arrest than in prison. Many other states have already found this out. I invite you to look at some of the research supporting this on my website.
Accordingly, I have introduced several pieces of legislation, including the following:
- HCR2025 A bill to grant authority to the Board of Executive Clemency to authorize pardons and clemencies. This would remove the final decision-making process from the political arena where political considerations may compete with the just merits of the case.
- HB2374 A bill to give discretion back to judges who have actually heard the facts of a case, and can impose a sentence which is proportionate to the seriousness of the offense, rather than arbitrary sentence terms imposed by the legislature.
- HB2648 A bill to allow inmates the incentive to earn early release credits for good behavior, for participation in education and treatment programs - all of which are a good indication of how they will perform when released. Currently, inmates must serve 85% of the imposed sentence. This bill would allow eligible individuals to serve 66% of their imposed sentence with the remaining 34% served under community supervision. Evidence from other states shows that this practice has a very high potential for a successful reentry.
- HB2664 A bill to establish a sentencing commission which can review the performance outcomes of various programs, study the statistical successes of local and national incarceration alternatives, and make non-binding recommendations to the legislature on how to get the best reentry outcomes for taxpayer dollars invested in the corrections system.
- HB2380 A bill to release elderly and infirm inmates to consenting family members on medical end-of-life issues that render the inmates incapable of aggression. This reduces the medical expense to the Department of Corrections, and allows the family to attend the final days/months of the inmate’s life.
- HB2378 A bill to equalize the playing field for those who were convicted before the statutes changed in 1973. This would allow anyone convicted of murder before 1973 to apply for parole on the same eligibility basis as those who have been convicted of murder since then. This would appliy to only 28 inmates, all of whom have served 35 years or more; but it does level the playing field for parole eligibility and would reduce the future medical expenses of the state.
You can see more on these bills, and link to their respective webpages from http://www.cecilash.com/Bill_
None of the foregoing bills will be considered unless they are first heard by the judiciary committee to which most of them have been assigned. http://bit.ly/eOppZt Committee chairs in the legislature have the discretion to hear or hold a bill. If the chair holds the bill it cannnot be heard and cannot move forward. Right now, none of these bills have been heard. The deadline for hearing bills in the House is next Friday, February 18, 2011.
I encourage those of you who have an interest seeing any of these bills move forward, to write your representatives, your senator, and any committee chair who may be holding bills, to express why you support the bill.
Your support of these matters is appreciated. Your questions or comments on any of these bills is also welcome.
Cecil Ash ,
Cecil Ash ,Chair
Health & Human Services
AZ Legislative District 18
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