The Arizona criminal justice system has received a lot of scrutiny recently from various groups. One of these groups is Arizona Town Hall. Arizona Town Hall recently completed a report on criminal justice in Arizona. The following is from Criminal Justice in Arizona, Summary of the Arizona Town Hall Report, March 2018 found at http://www.aztownhall.org/resources/Documents/111%20Criminal%20Justice%20In%20Arizona%20Key%20Facts%20web.pdf
The Arizona Town Hall summary brief gives some highlights from the full Arizona Town Hall report on criminal justice in Arizona.
In Arizona, the number of crimes committed has declined for years even as the population has increased. The crime rate has declined by over one-third since 2006. Unfortunately, incarceration rates have gone up during the same time period. The vast majority of cases heard by the courts are minor traffic and civil cases. Total costs of the Arizona criminal justice system average approximately $525 for every man, woman, and child every year.
There are approximately 15,000 sworn law enforcement officer in Arizona’s over 140 different police agencies. Crime rates have decreased even though the number of officers per 1,000 residents in Phoenix has gone down since 2008. The connection, if any, between these statistics is unclear.
Poor people often cannot make bail while waiting for their trials. Research shows that bail does little to ensure that defendants return for trial. Reforms are being implemented to make the imposition of bail more equitable and to reduce people awaiting trial in jail.
Prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding what charges to press against a defendant. The decision not to charge may be the most powerful tool of the prosecutor. Although the initial charges filed may not be the ones that are eventually brought to trial, they influence key decisions on bail, plea bargains, and sentencing. The development of charging guidelines could reduce seemingly arbitrary charges.
“Determinate sentencing” such as Arizona’s rigid sentencing laws has resulted in a transfer of power from judges to prosecutors since the charges filed by the prosecutor now largely determine the sentence. The increase in Arizona’s prison population is the result of changes in sentencing policy, not changes in crime. Arizona has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country at 585 per 100,000 population.
18 percent of those released return to prison within six months. Arizona’s three-year recidivism rate of 39 percent is lower than the national average of 50 percent. Those returning to society after prison often lack the resources to establish themselves in the outside world. Access to transportation, employment, and health care may help reduce recidivism.
The Arizona criminal justice system raises the following questions:
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