Reforming Sentencing Policies and Practices in Arizona

Cassia Spohn, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, ASU

Executive Summary

This article calls for sentencing reforms designed to slow the flow of people into prison, reduce both the number of persons now incarcerated and the lengths of sentences they are serving, and ameliorate unwarranted disparities in imprisonment. Reforming sentencing policies and practices is particularly urgent in Arizona, which has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the United States, a ballooning corrections budget, and prison beds filled with non-violent drug offenders who often do not receive the substance abuse treatment they need to successfully re-enter society. Policies that contributed to Arizona’s imprisonment binge include Proposition 301, which allows judges to impose prison sentences on individuals for a first or second conviction for possession/use of a dangerous drug; the state’s “repetitive offender” sentencing enhancement provisions, which allow judges to increase sentences substantially for persons convicted of multiple offenses or with prior felony convictions; Arizona’s habitual offender provisions, which require a life sentence without parole for offenders convicted of a serious offense who have two or more prior convictions for serious offenses; and Arizona’s truth-in-sentencing rule, which requires most offenders to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed by the judge before being eligible for release. The reforms advocated in this article are designed to end Arizona’s imprisonment crisis and to ensure that sentences are fair, equitable, and proportionate.

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Key Recommendations