Groups of stakeholders dedicated to reducing prison populations urged Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers Monday to cancel plans to spend $50 million on new prison beds.
Caroline Isaacs, program director for American Friends Service Committee, and representatives of like-minded groups held a press conference on the House lawn to protest the planned expansion of Arizona prison capacities which would include up to 2,000 medium-security beds to house male prisoners.
Although the full, 2,000-bed expansion requires further legislative approval, the initial increase of 1,000 beds – which was already approved – has been delayed following days of unrest at a private prison in Kingman.
Advocates for sentencing reform said Arizona should invest money in human service needs, as more prison beds only enable criminal behavior.
“We are fed up with a broken criminal justice system where we spend over a billion dollars a year, and have to show for it a 40-60 percent recidivism rate,” Isaacs said. “We are just rewarding poor behavior, poor performance with more money.”
Instead, Isaacs said the state should fund services that reform criminal behavior, such as public education and drug treatment.
“What works is getting at the root causes of crime,” Isaacs said. “You can’t punish your way out of addiction. You can’t punish you way out of mental illness. You can’t punish your way out of poverty.”
Although advocates for further prison spending argue that the services needed for prison reform also require state spending, Isaacs said the key is that human service spending requires less money than incarceration.
“Residential drug treatment costs a fraction of incarceration,” Isaacs said. “Probation – intensive probation – costs a fraction. It’s a question of reallocating and reinvesting those resources, and we will save in the long term.”