Who We Are
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multi-year effort to reduce Arizona’s jail and prison populations by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We are formerly incarcerated individuals, families impacted by mass incarceration, activists, and lawyers fighting in our neighborhoods, in our courts, at polling places, and in the halls of the state Capitol to create a system that invests in people, not prisons.
Why We Must End Mass Incarceration
Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to crime, which traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities. It should be the last option, not the first. Yet Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the United States. Just look at the facts:
- From 2000 to 2016, Arizona’s imprisonment rate increased by 20 percent.
- People serve longer sentences in Arizona than they would in other states for the same crimes.
- Arizona is one of the only states that requires all people in prison to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, giving them no opportunity to earn their way to an earlier release date.
- Arizona’s criminal justice system has a disparate impact on people of color. Arizona has the highest rate of imprisoned Latinos in the U.S. and has the sixth highest rate of imprisoned black people.
- In three decades, Arizona’s general fund spending on corrections has grown 241 percent. In 2016, Arizona spent more than $1 billion on corrections.
Arizona can dramatically reduce its prison population by ending the outdated 85 percent requirement and allowing people to earn their way to an earlier release date. Our extreme sentencing laws should be reformed to bring us in line with other states.
People who have not been convicted of a crime are needlessly locked up in Arizona jails just because they cannot afford to pay bail. People who can afford to buy their freedom are released while individuals without money are jailed even before they are proven guilty. We can end the criminal justice system’s reliance on cash bail and aim to dramatically reduce pretrial detention while combatting bias and systemic racism in the pretrial process.
For decades, county attorneys’ offices in Arizona have been rife with misconduct as overzealous prosecutors act with impunity and work toward convictions, not justice. Elected county attorneys also have enormous sway over the state Legislature and aggressively fight against any attempts at substantial reform. We can reform the culture of our county attorneys’ offices by taking legal action, demanding transparency, educating voters, and encouraging local elected county attorneys to reimagine the role they play in the justice system.