Arizona should not reduce sentences just because its prisons are full, a Phoenix prosecutor told state legislators yesterday. Capitol Media Services reports that Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley acknowledged that Arizona has one of the West’s highest incarceration rates. He said the differences are small and there are reasons that Arizona locks up 513 of each 100,000 residents. He said that some statistics being given to lawmakers about the reasons people are incarcerated are incomplete because they don’t say what prior crimes inmates have committed.
Romley got a cool response from Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, chair of a special panel looking at revisions to the criminal code. “We have to be very careful with the decisions we make,” the lawmaker said. Konopnicki said he remains convinced that there are legitimate alternatives to incarceration for some criminals.
The hearings come as Gov. Janet Napolitano is urging lawmakers to spend $470 million to create more than 9,000 new prison beds. That would accommodate an anticipated growth in prison population for five years, though taxpayers will end up shelling out more than $700 million with interest over 15 years for construction. “The cost of building and maintaining more prisons is high,” Romley said. “The cost of not doing so appears to be higher.”