Conservative criminal justice bill could boost safety, save tax dollars

Guest Opinion//June 7, 2021//

Conservative criminal justice bill could boost safety, save tax dollars

Guest Opinion//June 7, 2021//

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This session, Arizona legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey have achieved big victories on criminal justice legislation. Bills have passed that will require a conviction for civil asset forfeitures, and end the counterproductive practice of driver’s license suspension for owed court debt.  

No longer will the authorities be able to take innocent people’s property, and people who owe fines and fees will still be able to get to work so they can pay them back, rather than being stuck in a modern-day debtor’s prison.  

It’s not a surprise given that Arizona has led on other great policy innovations, like recognizing out-of-state occupational licenses, and Right to Try, which allows patients with life-threatening conditions to access innovative new treatments, among others. Lawmakers have sent a clear message that government should not mess with Arizonans’ jobs, health care, and rights.   

To continue this focus, legislators should prioritize passing a remaining, major piece of legislation that would benefit taxpayers and public safety: Senate Bill 1064.  

The bill expands the state’s earned release credits program to incentivize people in prison to complete programming like job training, and to address issues like addiction.   

Grover Norquist (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Grover Norquist (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Most people in prison will one day leave prison. One goal of incarceration is to improve public safety by using the time offenders spend in prison to reduce the likelihood they will reoffend.    

It is important to treat those with addiction problems before they are released, and get people ready to work and contribute to society. As long as they remain untreated, addicts are more likely to reoffend, as research from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and others shows.  

Research also has shown that having a decent job is a key factor in reducing recidivism, and training is critical to give offenders the skills to get those jobs, according to EconoFact.org. Poverty is also a leading recidivism factor, as studies from the Department of Justice and others has found. 

 Incentivizing people to work on these areas is a win for them, and a win for reducing crime rates. Just look at what other states have accomplished.  

After South Carolina expanded their earned release credits, along with a few other changes, the state saw a 5.6% decline in reoffending, and a 14.5% drop in prison population, from 2010-2017. Kentucky saw its recidivism rate fall by 5.3% and its prison population fall by 23% following 2011 reforms. 

 In 2008 and 2013, Mississippi significantly curtailed truth-in-sentencing requirements that effectively limited the ability of offenders to earn credits off their sentence. The results have been falling rates of violent crime, and a decrease in property crime, to go along with a smaller prison population. 

 Taxpayers benefit in two ways, first the criminal justice system that executes a core function of government becomes more effective in protecting public safety. Second, Senate Bill 1064 could save the state upwards of $600 million. Those funds can be reinvested to improve programming within the system, or focused into areas that are needed to better protect the public.  

These are smart on crime policies that will make better use of taxpayer dollars, they also remain tough on crime. Earned release credits will be expanded only for drug offenders, and low-level offenders, not traffickers. Bad behavior will take away any credits an offender has earned. For any crimes with victims, victims’ rights are maintained by the bill. Ultimately, reductions in crime and recidivism will mean there are fewer future victims.  

Inaction would mean losing an opportunity to lower risks to Arizonans. The status quo has too many inmates being released without going through programming that reduces the chance that they will reoffend.  

As session closes in on the finish line, legislators have a great opportunity to deliver another win for Arizonans by passing Senate Bill 1064 to improve safety through earned second chances. 

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, a taxpayer group founded in 1986 at the request of President Ronald Reagan.