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Group takes to Capitol to protest spending on extra prison beds

Caroline Isaacs

Caroline Isaacs

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.”

2 comments

  1. Arizona currently has a 5,000 prison bed shortfall. The new 1,000 beds are to relieve that shortage. The same people who criticized us for years because of prison overcrowding now do not want us to relieve it because the do not like private prisons, even though they are less expensive and free up tax dollars for other uses.

    State senator John Kavanagh

  2. Senator Kavanagh the issue with Private Prisons is way more than money. I have had the unfortunate experience of visiting Kingman(Private) and Yuma(State) and was astounded by the difference. The lack of training of employees at Kingman was very evident. Money needs to start at the beginning to avoid unnecessary prison sentences for the addicted or mentally ill. They need help, not locked away and ignored. We are the only state that requires 85% time served. If all other states are way less than that how can Arizona be the only that is right? We need to learn from successful programs in other States to actually try to rehabilitate Human Beings instead turning a worse one out to civilian life.

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