Arizona could save $40 million by sending one out of five non-violent inmates to drug treatment programs instead of prison, argues the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the Arizona Republic says. Maricopa County prosecutors disputed the report, which declared the state’s justice system broken.
FAMM said Arizona’s long, mandatory sentences for repeat offenders has cost the state millions, filled prisons with non-violent criminals, disproportionately sanctioned people of color and done little to help public safety. The study was embraced by at least two legislators who are pushing to revise sentencing laws.
FAMM called on the governor and Legislature to establish a high-level, nonpartisan commission to study and revise Arizona’s sentencing laws. “We do have a prison crisis in Arizona, not just because of beds but because of how we incarcerate,” said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who leads a House work group studying sentencing reform. “It is time to stop warehousing people, it is time to start treating people and making a difference in their lives.”
Barnett Lotstein, a prosecutor’s spokesman, rejects the notion that there is a problem in the state’s sentencing system. He called FAMM’s report “obviously biased” with the aim of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs. “We are in favor of mandatory sentences as they exist in Arizona,” Lotstein said, adding that they impart consistency. “The people who are in prison, for the most part, deserve to be there.”
FAMM points out that Arizona’s sentencing laws also do not distinguish between addicts who sell a small amount of drugs to fund their habit and those who are drug “kingpins.”