Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Joel Feinman: Updated: Prosecutor’s Council should stop talking, start acting

Joel Feinman: Updated: Prosecutor’s Council should stop talking, start acting

Editor’s note: This column has been edited from the version posted the morning of June 11 to exclude a passage that didn’t meet our standards for attribution in local submissions. 

Arizona’s criminal justice system is bloated and broken. As taxpayers we spend $20,000 more per inmate than per K-12 student. Our state has the fourth-highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. Our country as a whole keeps more people in prison than China and Russia, and we have a higher percentage of people of color behind bars than South Africa did during apartheid. 

Despite this fiscal, constitutional, and humanitarian crisis, Gov. Doug Ducey signed precisely one criminal justice reform bill into law this year. State Bill 1310 will reduce prison sentences for people serving time for simple drug possession who have not been previously convicted of a violent or aggravated felony, but only if they have successfully completed a drug treatment or self-improvement program while in the Arizona Department of Corrections. Here’s the very, very big catch: AZDOC does not currently provide this type of programing, and Arizona’s elected prosecutors successfully fought off an attempt to require AZDOC to do so. 

The fate of SB 1310 and another criminal justice reform bill vetoed by the governor on June 7, SB 1334, demonstrate how Arizona prosecutors, and the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, continue to exercise their extraordinary power to frustrate meaningful criminal justice reform in Arizona. 

SB 1334 would have restored the smallest iota of sentencing discretion to judges in a small number of cases involving multiple offenses committed on the same occasion. Arizona’s most powerful elected prosecutors lined up to kill the bill, including Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. In public, all three elected officials claim to support some type of criminal justice reform. Yet their claims proved hollow. 

APAAC has had tremendous success changing Arizona law to enshrine prosecutors as the all-powerful chieftains of the criminal justice system, and blocking meaningful reform efforts that might limit their power or ameliorate the suffering of the 42,000 Arizonans currently locked away in state prisons. The culmination of their efforts is the inhumane and unjust criminal system we see all around us today. 

A tragic irony of this state of affairs is that APAAC’s primary funding source is the Criminal Justice Enhancement Fund, a pool of money drawn from fines and fees paid by civil and criminal defendants. This means the people who are hit the hardest by mass incarceration are forced to pay for their prosecutors’ successful efforts to make their prison terms longer, and their lives even bleaker. 

It is all too easy to mouth the slogans and catchphrases of criminal justice reform, but such talk is cheap indeed. If we truly want to disassemble the carceral state and end mass incarceration we must insist actions follow words. APAAC and our elected county attorneys must join the ACLU, Koch Industries, Right on Crime, and numerous state legislators from both parties who are trying to pass meaningful criminal justice reform bills. It is past time for them to stop talking, and start acting. 

  

  

 

Joel Feinman is the Pima County Defender.


Subscribe to stay connected to Tucson. A subscription helps you access more of the local stories that keep you connected to the community.

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

OPINION: "With fabricated and melodramatic outrage, Mayor and Council intend to disrupt and undo all things RTA. The RTA’s jurisdictional members have twisted themselves up into pretzels trying to reach accommodation with the city, all with no success," writes Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy. 

OPINION: "In honoring the passing of the incomparable Betty White, we remember that home sharing is not a new concept. White’s popular 80’s sit-com "Golden Girls" was based on four older women (including a mother-daughter pair) who share one house to reduce living costs. In the show, this arrangement created a unique opportunity for the ‘girls’ to share experiences and build a stronger connection to each other. It can work that way in real life also," writes Tom Simplot, director of the Arizona Department of Housing.

OPINION: "School board members are true servant leaders. They are unpaid volunteers devoting countless hours to their role, including training, meetings and studying agenda packets. They understand the uniqueness of their position in that they are nonpartisan and represent all stakeholders living in the district. Rarely do they view their position as a springboard to higher political office," writes Nicholas Clement, former superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District. 

OPINION: "We can talk about immigration policy and people crossing the border illegally. Those issues deserve serious discussion. But that discussion becomes impossible if we puff our chests, turn our brains off, and punch down at people who by and large are just trying to find a better life for their families," writes Curt Prendergast, the Star's opinion editor. 

  • Updated

OPINION: "This should be a no-brainer, so what’s the problem? Some members of the RTA board are hesitant to change the scope of the First Avenue project. They appear to want Tucson to build a six-lane roadway because it was the project scope promised in the 2006 plan and the RTA must do what was promised no matter the need or the cost. Decisions by the RTA Board should be made based on facts and data, not out of fear of public perceptions and long ago promises," write Tucsonans Ruth Reiman and Jane Evans. 

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News