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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Hill

Important Criminal Justice Bills Will Be Heard in Committee This Week. Here’s What You Should Know.

Update on Feb.3, 2021:

HB 2261 passed unanimously through the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee. It now moves on for a full House vote. Smart Justice leaders Leah Farrington and Alexandria Hunt testified in support. Their testimony can be viewed here: HB 2713 was removed from Wednesday's agenda.

Original Post:

This legislative session, ACLU Smart Justice Arizona is continuing to advocate for much-needed reforms to the criminal legal system. Two important bills will be heard in committee on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 and we will be there virtually to testify in support.

Here’s what you should know.

HB 2261 will require the Arizona Department of Corrections to provide better accommodations for women and families impacted by incarceration. It has our support.

This bill would ensure people who have periods are given a sufficient, free supply of tampons and pads. It would provide extra protections for pregnant people who are incarcerated. And it would require ADC to attempt to place parents of minor children in facilities close to their homes and to ensure children can visit their parents.

The women’s prison population in Arizona has grown at nearly three times the rate of the men’s prison population over the past five years. Arizona prisons fail to meet the needs of incarcerated women on multiple fronts. The facilities these women are confined in does not provide an ideal environment of rehabilitation when basic human needs are being neglected. While we work toward addressing the root causes of mass incarceration, we must in the meantime ensure that incarcerated people are treated humanely, housed in a safe environment, and are receiving the care they need.

HB 2713 is a sentencing reform bill that will allow people to earn their way to an earlier release date. It has our support, but it’s not without flaw.

Sentencing reform is long overdue in Arizona. Arizona is one of the only states that provides almost no opportunities for people to earn time off their sentences. HB 2713 would change that by allowing people to reduce their sentence by as much as 50 percent for people with drug convictions and by as much as 33 percent for people convicted of other crimes that are considered nonviolent. While HB 2713 is a step in the right direction, it does have a few flaws.

First, HB2713 provides additional incentives for people to take part in programming. Unfortunately, that programming may not be available to all people who are incarcerated, especially considering that the pandemic has paused in-person visitations to prisons. We hope that lawmakers ensure that ADC provides the necessary programming. If ADC cannot do so, we hope it will allow people to participate in community-based treatment programs while on community supervision to earn release credits.

Second, allowing people to earn an opportunity to be released from custody will increase the number of people on community supervision. Arizona’s system of community supervision is also in need of reform. Too many people are sent back to prison for non-criminal, technical violations of their supervision orders. We recommend lawmakers consider legislation ensuring that people are not returned to prison from community supervision for non-criminal activity.

Finally, we believe earned release credits should be extended to all incarcerated people. Ninety-five percent of the people we send to prison will return home one day. We should be incentivizing all people to take part in treatment, maintain good behavior, and to have hope that they can turn their lives around and reclaim their futures.

We plan to voice these concerns to the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee during our testimony Wednesday.

Attacks are on the horizon.

While HB 2261 and HB 2713 are positive steps forward, the legislature is also attempting to take Arizona several steps backward. A slew of bills criminalizing the right to peaceful assembly have been introduced in direct retaliation against Black and Brown community organizers for last summer’s protests against police brutality. There is no doubt these bills, if passed, will lead to increased arrests and prosecutions of Black and Brown Arizonans while also chilling free speech and assembly. Other bills aim to block any efforts at police reform. The first of those bills, HB 2295, would make it harder for police to be held accountable for misconduct. HB 2295 passed through committee this week. Stay with ACLU Smart Justice Arizona as we continue to monitor these attacks on civil liberties.

Remember you can always reach out to your lawmakers directly to voice your support or opposition to any of these bills. Check out our lobbying guide for detailed information on how to do that. You can also stay up-to-date when action is needed by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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