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American Friends Service Committee is incorrect on corrections

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (Cronkite News Service Photo by Christina Silvestri)

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (Cronkite News Service Photo by Christina Silvestri)

A sponsored analysis of Arizona’s sentencing policies by American Friends Service Committee (appearing in the March 14 edition Arizona Capitol Times in the “Courts and Corrections” Focus section) lacks relevant data about the state’s prison population and ignores smart, effective policies that are already in effect.

It’s curious to see the AFSC tout a 2012 survey showing strong support among Arizona voters for prison alternatives which our state instituted long ago. Evidently, the group is unaware that Arizona currently provides mental health courts, diversion programs, drug treatment programs and earned time credit – and has for years.

Arizona, we are told, has the sixth highest incarceration rate in the U.S., a finding which we are not told includes the federal prison population, over which the state has no control. Total inmate population in state prison grew less than 2 percent since 2010, hardly an explosive increase especially considering the state’s total population grew nearly twice as much over the same period. Dire predictions of unsustainable growth in inmate population have simply not materialized. In fact, previous plans to build additional correctional facilities in Arizona were shelved several years ago.

The real question is not how many people are in Arizona’s prisons, but which people.

According to a recent analysis commissioned by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorney’s Advisory Council (APAAC), more than 95 percent of current inmates have multiple felony convictions and/or a conviction for a violent felony, sex offense, dangerous crime against children, or other dangerous offense.

This is the expected result of policies enacted 20 years ago that target the most serious criminals for incarceration. Another expected result is the precipitous drop in crime Arizona has enjoyed over this period – also ignored by the AFSC. In the last decade alone, Arizona’s rate of Part 1 crimes – which include murder, rape, robbery aggravated assault, burglary, vehicle theft and arson – has fallen twice as much as the national rate.

The fact is, crime prevention through incapacitation saves taxpayers money. The same APAAC study estimates Arizona sentencing laws led to the incarceration of 3,100 offenders who otherwise would not have been sent to prison. That translates into the prevention of roughly 98,038 additional crimes and a savings of more than $360 million in crime-related costs.

Policy makers and fellow Arizonans would be better served to have the Capitol Times assign one of its capable reporters to this topic instead of relying on column space purchased by an uninformed out-of-state interest group bent on promoting a reckless agenda under the guise of fiscal conservatism.

– Bill Montgomery is Maricopa County attorney.


  1. What are the “smart and effective” policies that are already in effect in Maricopa County? When there has been NO reform of Arizona’s draconian mandatory minimum sentencing that sentences a non-violent, first offender to prison for 75 years – a defacto life sentence, then there has been NO smart and effective policies. Taxpayers could save millions of dollars with Sentencing reform, as other conservative states are doing, while closing prisons and cutting prison population.

  2. The legislators listen to ALEC. Mr. Montgomery, you must mean this out of state group who is “growing” private prisons in Arizona, enriching the out of state CEO’s, like GEO CEO who made $12,000,000 in 2012. ADC and CCA signed a contract for over 2,000 private prison beds, over the holiday week-end, August 2012 — Governor at the GOP National Convention.

    MCAO Montgomery, “Policy makers and fellow Arizonans would be better served to have the Capitol Times assign one of its capable reporters to this topic instead of relying on column space purchased by an uninformed out-of-state interest group bent on promoting a reckless agenda under the guise of fiscal conservatism.” — this comment is insulting and inappropriate for a professional lawyer / prosecutor and County Attorney, who holds the most powerful position in the state.

    As informed citizens, voters and taxpayers, many of us have followed Caroline Isaacs work for years. She has been in Arizona over 25 years working on prison and sentencing reform issues, long before Mr. Montgomery’s face and voice emerged on the political scene.

  3. MCAO or AFSC — the truth lies in this award-winning documentary (not in Montgomery’s “sound-bytes” and spin).

    Time for “smart on crime”. The taxpayers have been conned and bilked long enough. The elected officials and lawmakers have put their own constituents and the taxpayers at risk for harm, using the taxpayers’ $$$’s to do it.

  4. The public has a right to know and to be educated on the reality of Arizona’s broken criminal justice system, where state or federal. Where’s this dialog among the lawmakers? The Prosecutors Association is hardly the bastion of fair and equal justice, Mr. Montgomery.


    “There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total — innocent and guilty — 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.

    I don’t mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn’t be considered crimes, although they are. I don’t mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it’s also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men (it’s mostly men) who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I’m not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants’ prisons. I’m talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.” by David Swanson, VA

  5. http://prisonlaw.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/new-study-prosecutors-not-police-have-driven-prison-population-growth/
    Sara Mayeux
    New Study: Prosecutors, Not Police, Have Driven Prison Population Growth
    The United States prison population has exploded over the past 40 years. But why? Have police been making more arrests? Have prosecutors been charging more people with crimes? Have judges been issuing longer sentences? Have parole boards become stricter? (All of the above?) Since many accounts of mass incarceration collapse “the criminal justice system” into a single monolith, it can be hard to know exactly what part of the system has driven the growth in the prison population.

    A new empirical study by Fordham law professor John Pfaff aims to provide a more granular explanation of the causes of mass incarceration. Pfaff concludes that only one other relevant number has changed as dramatically as the prison population has: the number of felony case filings per arrest. In other words, police haven’t been arresting more people:

    [B]etween 1982 and 1995, arrests rose by 26% (from 3,261,613 to 4,118,039) while mean [prison] admissions rose by 149% (from 212,415 to 530,642); between 1995 and 2007, arrests fell by 28.6% while admissions rose by another 31.9%. It is thus clear that arrests are not driving the growth in incarceration—and by extension neither are trends in crime levels, since their effect is wholly mediated by these arrest rates.

    Rather, prosecutors have become more likely to charge those arrested with crimes:

    [U]nlike the volume of arrests, that of felony case filings tracks the number of admissions quite closely. In the twenty‐six states that provide reliable felony filing data to the National Center on State Courts, between 1987 and 2006 filings grow by 129% (from 772,042 to 1,767,202) while admissions grow by an almost‐identical 132% (from 205,733 to 476,754). The decision to file charges thus appears to be at the heart of prison growth. “

  6. Caroline Isaacs, AFSC, is “correct about corrections”. Dedicated Arizona concerned citizens are being ignored on reforming Arizona’s Prison Issues. Time for the lawmakers to read her body of work. Get informed.


    Publications & Reports

    Caroline reporterAFSC ARIZONA

    AFSC Arizona Annual Report (2013) – AFSC Arizona

    Alternatives to Incarceration: A Review of Arizona Pre-Trial Diversion Programs (2013) – Paula Arnquist for AFSC Arizona

    Death Yards: Continuing Problems with Arizona’s Correctional Health Care (2013) – AFSC Arizona

    Racial and Ethnic disparity in Arizona’s maximum-security facilities (2013) – AFSC Arizona

    High Propensity Voter Opinions on Icarceration Issues (2013) – By GlobaLocal Visions

    Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry (2012) – AFSC Arizona

    Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem (2012) – AFSC Arizona

    Turning the Corner: Opportunities for Effective Sentencing and Correctional Practices in Arizona (2011) – By Judith Greene, Published by AFSC Arizona

    Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails (2007) – AFSC Arizona


    Race and the Politics of Isolation in US Prisons (2014) – By Jamie Bissonette & Bonnie Kerness

    Torture in United States Prisons (2011, 2nd Ed.) – By AFSC Prison Watch Project

    Inalienable Rights: Applying international human rights standards to the US criminal justice system (2009, 2nd Ed.) – By AFSC Prison Watch Project

    Buried Alive: Long-term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons (2008) – By Laura Magnani

    Confronting Confinement (2006) – A Report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons

    The Prison Inside The Prison (2003) – By Rachel Kamel & Bonnie Kerness

  7. When Prosecutors are unconstrained by legal essentials, as they are in secret process leading up to and through a Grand Jury hearing, the public is left without a guard to watch the guards.

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