PHOENIX - The Arizona House voted on June 28 to allow some people convicted of certain crimes to earn time off their sentences for participating in work training, substance-abuse treatment or other prison programs.
If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, the measure would mark a significant advancement in the criminal justice reform movement. Advocates say encouraging incarcerated people to participate in programs that help prevent repeat crimes will help the state save money on ballooning prison costs and improve public safety.
"The data is there — mandatory sentences do not work," said Rep. Walt Blackman, a Republican from Snowflake who has worked for years on the legislation. "Mandatory sentences do nothing to rehabilitate that inmate, which is going to cost Arizona taxpayers more money in the future."
Blackman’s legislation will allow people in prison to earn anywhere from one to five days off their sentence for every six days served, depending on the crime for which they were convicted, in exchange for following prison rules and participating in improvement programs. Nonviolent drug offenses would carry the most generous earned-release credits.
People convicted of a wide variety of crimes are not eligible, including serious or violent felonies, sexual offenses, human trafficking and dangerous crimes against children.
The House approved the measure overwhelmingly in a 50-8 vote.
It costs more money in the long run to incarcerate people than to focus on rehabilitating them, said Rep. Diego Rodriguez, a Phoenix Democrat.
"All we’ve done is fill our prisons," Rodriguez said. "All we’ve done is drive up the cost of incarcerating people. It does not make the community safer."
States and cities around the country have rushed too fast into criminal justice reform, said Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican who voted against the measure and supported an unsuccessful effort to water it down.
"If we’re going to err on the side of anything it should be on the side of safety of our constituents," Kavanagh said.
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