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November 10, 2010

Talk in Arizona about budgets and the need for sentencing changes

This AP story, which is headlined "Lawmakers say Arizona budget woes, prison costs could provide impetus for sentencing changes," suggests that at least one set of state legislators is talking frankly about sentencing reforms to deal with budget challenges. Here are highlights:

Arizona's budget troubles could prompt lawmakers to seriously consider changing criminal sentencing laws to reduce or slow the costly growth of the state's prison population, two legislators said Tuesday.

Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, said many of his colleagues' fear of being labeled soft on crime has kept the Legislature from taking up the issue. "We cannot afford the current policies that we have, nor is there the will in the Legislature to change it," Konopnicki said.

But he and Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, said that could change in 2011 due to steady increases in prison costs as the state is trying to close big budget shortfalls. "Between policy and budget, we are headed to a major crash," said Konopnicki, who will leave the Legislature in January. "The financial crisis is going to cause some people to take a good look at what we're doing."...

The Department of Corrections' annual appropriation for the current fiscal year is $949 million, which is 11 percent of the current $8.5 billion budget and an amount larger than the projected shortfall of up $825 million.

Ash heads a House committee studying possible sentencing changes. "We have a lot of good ideas out there," Ash said. "I sense there's a will to do things differently."

Options identified by legislative budget analysts to cope with rising prison costs include expanding the prison system, diverting some offenders to treatment programs and probation, releasing some prisoners early and returning fewer parolees to prison for violations....

Though those two lawmakers each said they perceived the budget troubles created new impetus for consideration of sentencing changes, another Republican legislator recently said the options identified by the legislative budget analysts would receive scant consideration.

November 10, 2010 at 05:38 PM | Permalink

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