Prison for DUI
The Arizona Republic
HEADLINE: Inmate Overcrowding Hits Dangerous Level
DATE: October 17, 2003
By Amanda J. Crawford and Bill Hart
Drug users, drunken drivers (DUI), probation violators and other non-violent offenders are crowding into understaffed Arizona prisons in record droves, fueling a dangerous and unprecedented crisis.
The state's prison population has grown nearly seven times as fast as the state's population over the past two decades as inmates who receive little if any rehabilitation return to the lockup again and again.
With 4,200 inmates over capacity and the potential for danger if officers lose control, more and more criminal-justice experts, politicians and judges are demanding changes in how the state doles out justice.
"Clearly what we are doing now just isn't making sense," said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, who heads a group of legislators examining sentencing alternatives. "We take people who do things we don't like and turn them into hardened criminals."
The Arizona Legislature will meet in special session Monday to consider, in part, Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposed $26 million short-term bailout of the prison system.
But critics are calling for more sweeping changes to policies they say have led to unnecessarily long terms for drug-addicted, uneducated and unskilled criminals who too often return to the streets worse off than they went in. "It is beginning to dawn on people that we've been putting more and more people away longer with fewer (rehabilitative) services," said Professor John Hepburn of Arizona State University.
The debate is raging in dozens of other financially struggling states, where the response has been to ease mandatory sentences, reduce drug penalties, promote alternatives to prison and release inmates early.
Even some conservatives are rethinking the "tough on crime" policies of the past 25 years as they face the soaring costs of maintaining about 2 million prisoners nationwide.