Khalil Rushdan was 22 when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. In 1993, he was the middleman in a drug transaction in Pima County. He had no idea the deal, which he did not directly participate in, would end in a murder. When the Pima County Attorney was unable to convict the real killer, prosecutors went after Khalil. Khalil spent 15 years in prison before a judge overturned his conviction on evidence of vindictive prosecution. Although he is now free, Khalil never got the chance to watch his daughter grow up and missed precious moments with his mother, who died shortly after his release.
“I would have never been arrested and convicted of a murder if [the state] did not lie to get the conviction.” -Khalil Rushdan
Across Arizona, people are being mistreated by Arizona's criminal justice system. Some have been unfairly targeted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, like Khalil. Some are being jailed or forced to plead guilty because of an unjust cash bail system which strips people of their rights. Others are stuck behind bars long after it's safe for them to return home because extreme laws mandate lengthy sentences with little to no regard for the individual circumstances of one's crimes. These practices are fueling Arizona's mass incarceration crisis and it's hurting our families and communities. That's why the ACLU of Arizona launched the Campaign for Smart Justice.
Who We Are
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce Arizona's jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Our team consists of policy and legal experts, organizers, thousands of members and volunteers, and people directly affected by the injustices of Arizona’s criminal justice system.
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.
- On average, people released from prison in 2016 served a 31 percent longer sentence than people released in 2009. This increase in time served comes at a great cost to taxpayers and communities—in terms of both financial resources and public safety.
- More than 50 percent of inmates return to prison within 20 years of release. Lack of education, treatment, and social services in Arizona prisons makes it difficult for people to reintegrate into society, support their families, and contribute to their communities.
Lack of education, treatment, and social services in Arizona prisons makes it difficult for people to reintegrate into society.
- Arizona law limits how much time someone can reduce their sentence through participation in rehabilitative programs while incarcerated. This intensifies the likelihood of people returning to prison and keeps people in prisons long after it is safe for them to return home.
- More than one in five people in Arizona prisons is serving time for a drug-related offense. In 2017, marijuana-related charges dominated prison admissions.
- 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.
- Arizona’s imprisonment rate for women is almost twice the national rate.
- In three decades, Arizona’s general fund spending on corrections has grown 241 percent. In 2016, Arizona spent more than $1 billion on corrections. This money should be spent improving, not harming, communities. Investment in people and communities, not incarceration, is how we improve public safety.
The Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the Legislature, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration in Arizona.
Arizona has among the harshest mandatory minimum sentences in the U.S. Politicians determined to look “tough on crime” pushed these mandatory minimums—even though sentencing without judicial discretion does not make our state safer. We must reduce both the number of people entering jails and prisons and the extreme laws and policies that mandate long prison terms.
Cash bail systems are unjust. People who have not been convicted of a crime are needlessly locked up 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. This harmful system strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities.
Prosecutors across Arizona work towards convictions, not justice. These elected officials bear great responsibility for driving mass incarceration. The decisions they make while prosecuting crimes change lives, families, and communities. In Arizona, prosecutors have supported bills that would put more people in prison for longer periods while ignoring bills that would help individuals suffering from substance abuse get treatment. Prosecutors need to be held accountable for the laws they support and the choices they make while prosecuting people accused of crimes.
With the support of partners across the political spectrum, we are pushing for smart solutions.
How We Do It
Decades of bad policies have torn families apart and cost our state billions. With the support of community partners and organizations from across the political spectrum, we are pushing for smart policy solutions, advancing the leadership of people directly impacted by Arizona’s criminal justice system, and making sure politicians understand the urgency of smart justice reform.