PHOENIX—Today, a bipartisan group of criminal justice reform organizations sent a letter to Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives J.D. Mesnard, urging him to reinstate the Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform and appoint a new chair. The committee is critical in helping Arizona state legislators find ways to reduce its prison population while increasing public safety. The state has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the nation.
“Speaker Mesnard took an important step earlier this year when he formed an ad hoc committee to work on criminal justice reform,” said Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform and resident of Prescott, Arizona. “Arizona can do better. That’s why Speaker Mesnard formed the committee in the first place. We urge the Speaker to ensure that the ad hoc committee on criminal justice reform has effective leadership and be allowed to continue its critical work. Fixing Arizona’s criminal justice system is too important to do anything else.”
The letter was signed by the ACLU of Arizona; American Conservative Union Foundation Center for Criminal Justice Reform; American Friends Service Committee AZ; Americans for Prosperity AZ; Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice; Families Against Mandatory Minimums; FWD.us; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; LUCHA; Pima County Office of the Public Defender; Sonoran Prevention Works; and The Salvation Army.
“States across the country are cutting costs and increasing safety through evidence-based sentencing reforms. It’s hard to analyze evidence without a laboratory, and that’s what the Study Committee is,” said Molly Gill, FAMM’s vice president of policy. “Arizona shouldn’t shut its lab down in the middle of the experiment. Taxpayers deserve to get to see the results.”
The committee was established to examine what works to reduce the state’s 50.9 percent recidivism rate and address its growing drug abuse problems.
“The continuation of the Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform would allow for the discussion and development of legislation, policies, and ideas that could help Arizona lead the nation in criminal justice reform in 2019 and beyond,” said Chalon Hutson, field director for Americans for Prosperity AZ. “There is a lot of work to be done to keep society safe, with the fewest people in prison, at the lowest possible cost, which is why the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity joins in asking Speaker Mesnard to reinstate the committee.”
The committee was tasked with examining the impact of Arizona’s criminal justice policies on public safety, costs to taxpayers, and on communities of color.
Speaker Mesnard disbanded the Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform after recent racially insensitive comments were made by Rep. David Stringer (R-1), who chaired the Study Committee.
“Substantive criminal justice reform would be, perhaps, the most meaningful thing the state of Arizona could do to demonstrate a commitment to racial equality and fairness,” said Caroline Isaacs, program director of the American Friends Service Committee – Arizona office (AFSC-AZ). “There could be no greater rebuke of Rep. Stringer’s hateful and divisive words than to take action to reform the laws, structures, and institutions that unfairly impact people of color in Arizona every single day.”
“We cannot let the racist and xenophobic words of one man be used as an excuse to derail important work that could help Arizona develop a better justice system,” said Will Gaona, ACLU of Arizona policy director. “The need for criminal justice reform in Arizona is urgent, and Speaker Mesnard’s decision will have real, harmful effects on people in Arizona prisons, their families, and Arizona taxpayers.”
Read the full text of the letter here.