Arizona's tough stance on crime originated from America's war on crime

Arizona's tough stance on crime originated from America's war on crime

“Upholding law and order” has been political rhetoric for decades in America. During sheriff elections, incumbents would grip to their statistics on crime as an attempt to gain re-election. Similarly, legislatures would ensure that tough laws would be passed under their tenure. Most recently, political challengers would waive their opponent’s criminal track record as a safety liability, promising potential voters that criminals would be punished harshly if they were elected.

Even President Nixon ran on the rhetoric of law and order. During his 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon dedicated 17 speeches solely on the topic of law and order. He advocated for it so much that he dedicated an entire television ad that showed frightening images of protestors, bloodied victims and violence. At the end of the ad, a caption declared:

"This time vote like your whole world depended on it... Nixon."

President Reagan also relied on the harsh policy of law and order. Once elected, he promised to enhance the federal government’s role in crime-fighting with his War on Drugs. Soon, the general attitude of “toughness” towards criminal issues was born, leading to the mass incarceration problem the U.S. faces today. Arizona was also tough on crime during the ’80s and ’90s.

However, Arizona, much like many states, is now shifting away from the traditional tough on crime approach. Instead, legislatures, sheriffs, and prosecutors alike are taking actions that promote reform, accountability, and treatment, actions that buck the status quo that originated primarily during America’s War on Crime movement during the Regan era.

Reform at the prosecution level

While Bill Montgomery’s tenure as Maricopa County Attorney aligned with the standard tough on crime policies, Allister Adel, Maricopa’s current County Attorney, has instituted a number of recent reforms. Many of these reforms are related to simple marijuana possession, instituting diversion programs, and home detention. These changes were created within the first year of Adel’s tenure.

New departments focusing on post-conviction innocence claims, police use of force incidents, and open information have also been created, thus allowing the public to see the crime statistics in Maricopa County.

Additionally, with the passing of Proposition 207, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has instituted a policy that will dismiss minor marijuana cases that are currently pending.

Reform at the Corrections Level

In August of 2020, Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections was formed. This organization is a citizen oversight committee to keep Arizona’s correctional systems as transparent and open as possible. Noting inmate health care, infrastructure, privatization, budgeting, and morale, the group is adamant on accountability.

While the group was not formally created by Arizona’s legislature, the group, like many states, is pushing for a proposal to have oversight at some level.

In light of Covid-19, the Arizona Department of Corrects is seeking more beds in private prisons for its state prisoners. There has been much criticism around the state’s call for private help. Caroline Isaacs, the program director of the American Friends Service Committee of Arizona, a group aimed to stop mass incarceration, said that turning to private prisons for help was “the wrong direction” for the state to go. Isaacs also stated the following:

“Once of the oldest mythologies is that these private corporations are somehow going to be able to fix problems and do things better and more efficiently than government bureaucracy. The reality is that your’e just taking a corporation and sticking it in the middle of the bureaucracy and they’re going to skim a profit off the top.”

Reform at the law enforcement level

In the wake of recent police shootings around the country, Maricopa County had its own shooting that took place on May 25th with the shooting of Dion Johnson—an unarmed man shot by a Department of Public Safety Trooper.

Maricopa County Attorney Adel responded by asking the legislature to pass laws that would require all law enforcement officers to wear body-worn cameras. Regarding the Dion Johnson shooting, the DPS trooper was not wearing a body-worn camera because DPS does not equip their troopers with this technology. Adel commented on her legislative recommendation with the following:

“Transparency and accountability are critical elements within our criminal justice system. Mandatory use of body-worn cameras for all uniformed officers in the field is absolutely vital and that is why I have made this one of my top priorities as Maricopa County Attorney,”

Governor Doug Duecy has previously advocated for body-worn cameras for all Department of Public Safety officers until COVID-19 struck during the early months of 2020. Now, with the advocacy of County Attorney Adel, Governor Duecy plans to obtain 150 cameras for DPS, a measure aimed to ensure transparency and accountability.

Reform at the law enforcement level

Besides body-worn cameras, other pieces of legislative reform may arise in 2021. One of the biggest changes could Arizona’s “truth-in-sentencing” law, requiring inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentences. Previously, proposed House Bill 2808 aimed to make nonviolent felons eligible for release after serving 65% of their sentencing. Walk Blackman, who serves as the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee, may push to get a hearing on the bill.

Criminal conviction expungements may also come before Arizona’s legislature. Additionally, some state lawmakers may want to push a ban on Hannah priors, which allows prosecutors to charge suspects who face multiple charges stemming from a single incident as repeat offenders.

Final Thoughts

With the potential changes coming our way, it is important to stay current on Arizona laws. Our new Blog, The Informed Arizonan, covers recent legal changes, and how to stay free of criminal law enforcement. It is more important than ever to keep abreast of the law.

Visit The Informed Arizonan for weekly articles, and contact Chuck Franklin at (602) 932-0659 if you or your loved ones are facing criminal charges.

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