About Reforming Arizona
Why Reforming Arizona Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice reform is a frequent topic of conversation in Arizona, and for good reason. Over the past few decades, Arizona policymakers have been too quick to turn to the criminal law to deal with a wide range of social problems, producing a crisis of mass incarceration. Consider just a few data points:
- The United States is the world leader in incarceration: with only 5% of the world’s population, the nation houses around 25% of its prisoners. Arizona plays a pivotal role in securing America’s global status, with the 5th highest rate of incarceration in the nation.
- Prison populations throughout the United States skyrocketed over the past few decades, increasing 400% from 1980 to 2017. During this same period, the prison population in Arizona grew by 1,200%, expanding from 3,456 in 1980 to 42,312 in 2017. (This far outstripped the state’s general population growth.)
- Arizona’s prison population has continued to increase even as its crime rate has declined. For example, from 2000 to 2018, the Arizona prison population increased by 60%, while the property crime rate declined by 44% and the violent crime rate fell by 12%.
Using the national average for length of prison stay as a point of comparison, Arizona sentences for property crimes are 100% longer, sentences for drug offenses are 40% longer, and sentences for violent offenses are 25% longer.
Imprisoning more than 40,000 Arizonans is fiscally unsustainable, sure, but it’s also morally problematic. Arizona’s criminal justice policies have destroyed the lives of countless individuals, families, and communities. And the costs of incarceration are not borne equally. Instead, they’re concentrated in racially disparate ways and focused on the state’s most vulnerable populations. So now, more than ever, a broad and bipartisan swath of Arizonans believe that the state needs to rethink its approach to criminal justice. But even with this groundswell of support for change, it’s proven difficult to find consensus on reforms that would secure justice, promote equality, and protect public safety. Here’s an idea: what if we ask some of the nation’s leading scholars to see what evidence-based solutions they would recommend for the Arizona criminal justice system? Welcome to Reforming Arizona Criminal Justice (RACJ), a collaborative project from the Academy for Justice and the Arizona State Law Journal.
What is Reforming Arizona Criminal Justice?
RACJ is a special issue of the Arizona State Law Journal comprised of a dozen accessible articles on Arizona criminal justice policy written by some of the nation’s leading criminal justice scholars. Each of the articles offers an intimate look into Arizona criminal law, provides an overview of relevant academic research, and proposes concrete recommendations for reform. Together, these articles address a broad spectrum of topics across all major stages of the criminal process, with a particular eye toward the most pressing and salient issues of criminal justice reform in Arizona, including sentencing, prison oversight, bail and pretrial detention, juvenile justice, marijuana reform, forensic evidence, treatment of sex offenders, the policing of homelessness, and expungement.
What’s the goal of Reforming
Arizona Criminal Justice?
The overarching goal of RACJ is to help bridge the gap between academia and criminal justice reform in Arizona. To achieve this goal, RACJ is organized around three main objectives: