The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tucson AFSC: Prison Reform in AZ

In case anyone plans to write thoughtful letters to policy-makers, here a a few concrete ideas to raise, from the American Friends Service Committee in Tucson:

Suggested Reforms for Arizona

1. Declare a moratorium on new prison construction.
Once a prison is built, the state must keep it full. This is particularly true of privately operated prisons, whose contracts explicitly stipulate 90% occupancy. New prison construction reduces our opportunities to have a meaningful discussion on sentencing reform. We need fewer prisons and more treatment and diversion programs.

2. Eliminate so-called truth in sentencing laws or reduce the percentage of time inmates must serve.
During the tough-on-crime '90's, many states passed truth in sentencing laws that eliminated the use of parole. In Arizona, prisoners sentenced under these laws must serve 85% of their sentence, regardless of their efforts toward rehabilitation or their real risk to the public. Many other states are now revisiting these laws and lowering the minimum percentage that prisoners must serve.

3. Amend mandatory minimums for drug and other low-level offenses.
Many drug offenders are sentenced under mandatory minimum sentences, which remove discretion from judges by mandating the terms people must serve. Most drug offenders are non-violent and would be better served in treatment programs, which are cheaper and more effective.

4. Re-think harsh DUI sentences.
While no one would argue against keeping drunken drivers off the road, prison sentences without meaningful treatment do virtually nothing to address the problem of DUI. Instead of spending $21,000 per person per year on incarceration, these offenders would be better served in community-based alcohol treatment to address the issues that led to their alcohol dependency.

5. Establish alternative sentencing programs and expand use of diversion programs that work.
There are hundreds of effective alternative sentencing models in other states. Plus, there are programs already in place in some cities in Arizona, such as Drug and DUI Courts, and programs that are on the books but are underused, such as work release programs. These programs have proven to be successful at reducing recidivism and are far less costly than incarceration.

6. Reduce the number of probation revocations due to technical violations.
About 20% of all admissions to the Department of Corrections are people who committed technical violations of the terms of their probation. These are not people who commit new crimes. These are people who missed an appointment with their probation officer or tested positive on a drug test. Probation departments can develop new programs to hold violators accountable for their actions without having to return them to prison. Another option is "shock incarceration," where violators are returned to prison for a short period (120 days), but then put back on probation in the community.

7. Improve the treatment and educational services provided to prisoners while they are incarcerated.
Our recidivism numbers would be significantly lowered if prisoners were provided with the skills and services they need to become productive citizens. Simple warehousing that ignores the root causes of crime commits us to a never-ending cycle of incarceration and wastes millions of tax dollars every year.

8. Provide well-funded re-entry services to released inmates.
Most prisoners are sent out the prison gates with no more than a check for $50 that they have no means of cashing. Widespread discrimination against people with felony convictions makes it very difficult for former prisoners to find stable housing and decent jobs. People with drug convictions are barred from receiving public assistance or Section 8 housing. As mentioned above, many of them did not have an opportunity to effectively address their addictions, abuse histories, or lack of education while incarcerated. Is it any surprise that so many of them return to prison?

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