Today, Gov. Doug Ducey delivered his 2020 State of the State address failing and made two announcements related to the criminal justice system. ACLU of Arizona Community Partnership Coordinator Khalil Rushdan will present a response to the Governor’s State of the State during a Facebook livestream event at 6:30 p.m. at www.facebook.com/ACLUofArizona. His remarks are below.
My name is Khalil Rushdan and I’m with the ACLU of Arizona.
Today, Governor Doug Ducey presented his State of the State address and made two big announcements related to our criminal justice system. I’m here to respond on behalf of the Campaign for Smart Justice. This is the State of Our State address.
During his speech, Gov. Ducey announced he will be closing a state prison. People who live there will be moved to other facilities. He’s doing this to address staffing shortages and remove the need for building repairs.
Closing any prison is a step in the right direction—however, Gov. Ducey made no mention of bringing people home to their families and communities sooner. He also did not mention that just last month, the Department of Corrections announced it would reopen a closed prison unit to house women because Perryville Women’s prison was filled to capacity. Where one prison closes, another opens. That is not the kind of bold criminal justice reform Arizona needs right now. We have been aggressively locking people up for years, so we must aggressively work to safely and effectively lower the prison population.
Our governor also announced he will rename the Department of Corrections to the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry. We applaud this change, and we encourage our governor to go even further. The name change should bring about a renewed mindset among Arizonans that corrections should be about rehabilitation, not punishment. But we also must be intentional about that commitment. We invite you, Governor Ducey, to engage with communities directly impacted by the criminal justice system so we can move the Department forward in a meaningful way.
I want to go deeper into the real state of Mass Incarceration in Arizona. We have the fifth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. Arizona has created a culture of punishment by creating laws that send people to prison for far longer than they would spend in other states for the exact same crimes. Black and brown people in Arizona are imprisoned at higher rates than white people. And it costs you—the taxpayer $1.1 billion dollars per year to maintain the prison system.
This is our governor’s seventh State of the State speech. In six of those speeches, he’s mentioned his support for second chances, his desire to reverse the growth of the prison population, and his willingness to help people make a smooth transition from prison back to our communities. Unfortunately, our governor’s talk has not translated into significant action.
We don’t want a magic show, where lawmakers are playing tricks and creating smoke screens to make it seem like we are accomplishing criminal justice reform when in reality they are doing just enough to do nothing at all.
So for the last three years, the ACLU of Arizona Campaign for Smart Justice has been working alongside other community organizations to raise awareness about Arizona’s mass incarceration crisis and how it’s impacting families every day both while people are incarcerated and upon release from prison.
In 2019, the ACLU of Arizona supported several criminal justice reform bills—including a bill that would have reformed our harsh sentencing laws, a bill that would allow people to clear their criminal records once they’ve paid their debt to society, and a bill that would prevent prosecutors from unjustly applying the repetitive offender sentencing enhancement to people who are not repetitive offenders.
That last bill was the only one to make it to Governor Ducey’s desk. It sailed through the House and the Senate. But when powerful county attorneys asked our governor to veto this bipartisan, sensible piece of legislation—he did as told.
In 2020, our fight continues.
When Governor Ducey talks about the economy, we the people say: we cannot have a strong economy when roughly 18,000 to 19,000 people are coming home from prison every year and some are being shut out from sustainable employment and housing because of the stigma associated with their criminal record. They are left in a no man’s land between prison gates and societal gates.
When Governor Ducey talks about the budget, we the people say: taxpayers do not need to spend more than one billion dollars to maintain prisons that are busting at the seams with people convicted of crimes where no violence occurred who need treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental illness, not incarceration.
When Governor Ducey talks about healthcare, we the people say: we cannot have equal access to healthcare when the 42,000 people living in Arizona prisons are being denied basic access to adequate healthcare leading to suffering and death.
When Governor Ducey talks about education, we the people say: the school-to-prison pipeline is real and we must do what we can on the front end to allow our kids to thrive, instead of overcriminalizing them.
When Governor Ducey talks about Second Chances, we the people say: real second chances have to start from day one of a person entering prison and we need to stop people from going into prison in the first place by advocating for alternatives to incarceration and investing in our communities.
So, how can you join me in making Arizona a state that invests in people, not prisons?
Get involved with organizations that are fighting every day to get people out of cages. You can sign up to get involved with us at smartjusticeaz.org.
Come testify at upcoming committee hearings in support of bills that will bring people home to their families and communities sooner where they can receive opportunities for effective treatment.
Write Gov. Ducey and your lawmakers asking them to give people a solid second chance by allowing them to expunge their criminal records, providing housing and employment opportunities, and extending compassion, redemption, and mercy.
And finally—mark your calendar for Wednesday, February 12 from 4 to 7 p.m.
That’s when we’ll host our Second Annual People Not Prisons vigil on the lawn of the state Capitol. We’ll light candles in honor of every incarcerated person who’s lost their life in DOC custody, every incarcerated person suffering from the lack of treatment for medical and mental illnesses, and every other person in prison who should be shown compassion, redemption, and mercy.
This has been the State of Our State.