About Reforming Arizona
Criminal Justice

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:


Make evidence-based academic research on pressing criminal justice issues accessible to all Arizonans.


Focus the research on Arizona and its localities, as opposed to the conceptual “U.S. criminal justice system.”


Propose concrete reforms that can be used in Arizona criminal justice reform efforts.

These objectives respond to the call from the National Research Council’s groundbreaking 2014 report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

Given the prominent role played by prisons in U.S. society, the far-reaching impact of incarceration, and the need to develop policies that reduce reliance on imprisonment as a response to crime, public and private research institutions and statistical agencies should support a robust research and statistics program commensurate with the importance of these issues.

Although there has been a significant increase in criminal justice scholarship in recent years, much of it remains inaccessible and too abstract to be used by those working on criminal justice reform. And nearly all criminal justice scholarship is focused on the conceptual “U.S. criminal justice system,” as opposed to the particular states and localities where criminal justice policy is actually made. RACJ pursues a different approach by offering a series of accessible articles written by some of the nation’s leading criminal justice scholars on targeted issues of Arizona criminal justice. These contributions do more than just offer general directional encouragement—such as, “Arizona should punish less” or “invest more money in prison programming.” Instead, they offer concrete guidance on how Arizona and its localities might chart a realistic path forward on a diverse set of criminal justice issues.

Who is involved in Reforming Arizona Criminal Justice?

RACJ was developed and is organized by ASU law professor Michael Serota.

Michael Serota

Visiting Assistant Professor
Associate Deputy Director - Academy for Justice
Arizona State University

The other contributors are:

Valena Beety

Professor of Law
Deputy Director - Academy for Justice
Arizona State University

Douglas A. Berman

Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law
Executive Director - Drug Enforcement
and Policy Center
The Ohio State University

Jenny E. Carroll

Wiggins, Childs, Quinn
& Pantazis Professor of Law
University of Alabama

Michele Deitch

Distinguished Senior Lecturer
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin

Henry F. Fradella

Professor, Associate Director
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Arizona State University

Christine S. Scott-Hayward

Associate Professor of Law, Criminology,
and Criminal Justice
School of Criminology, Criminal Justice,
and Emergency Management
California State University, Long Beach

Kristin Henning

The Blume Professor of Law
Director - Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative
Georgetown Law

Alex Kreit

Assistant Professor of Law
Director - Center for Addiction Law & Policy
Northern Kentucky University

Tamara Rice Lave

Professor of Law
Director - Litigation Skills Program
University of Miami School of Law

Ben A. McJunkin

Associate Professor of Law
Associate Deputy Director - Academy for Justice
Arizona State University

Rebba Omer

Program Manager & Staff Attorney
Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative
Georgetown Law

John F. Pfaff

Professor of Law
Fordham University School of Law

Cassia Spohn

Foundation Professor
Director - School of Criminology
and Criminal Justice
Arizona State University

Sonja B. Starr

Professor of Law
The University of Chicago Law School

Looking for more information?

Reforming Arizona Criminal Justice Contact form