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Criminal justice reform advocates lobby lawmakers, calling for an end to mass incarceration

Posted: 5:11 PM, Jan 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-21 20:21:22-05
Lewis Prison

PHOENIX — 95 percent of the people in state prison will be released someday. Two-thirds of them will end up back in jail. It's a grim statistic, which drives a movement to reform our criminal justice system.

Supporters think this is the year the Arizona Legislature will act. "I believe members of both parties are incredibly receptive to what has been going on in the state for far too long and want to fix the system," Joe Watson of the American Friends Service Committee-Arizona said.

AFSC-AZ hosted Reframing Justice Day 2020 at the State Capitol Tuesday. More than 100 people turned out for a day spent lobbying legislators to support criminal justice reform. One of those citizen lobbyists was Ashley Campbell. Her husband, Reed Ehmke, is doing eight years in prison on drug-related charges.

Ehmke is a member of the inmate hotshot team which battles wildland fires around the state.

"I'll be speaking with Representative Blackman this afternoon about earned release credits as well as implementing re-hab programs in lieu of harsher sentences," Campbell said.

Campbell says her husband, who is a former EMT started his own program behind bars to deal with his substance abuse.

"My husband implemented his own program and that has sort of filtered down to the population in Florence," Campbell said, "but that's just one prison."

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), 78 percent of the inmates incarcerated in Arizona prisons have moderate to severe substance abuse problems. Only two percent are able to receive treatment. Among the provision in Representative Blackman's bill is the creation of diversion programs both in and out of prison.

In his State of the State Address, Governor Ducey called for the closing of one prison in Florence. Transferring inmates to state and private prisons as well as county jails. Corrections officers from the closed prison would be moved to other facilities to ease staffing shortages.

According to the governor, the moves would save the state nearly $300 million over three years. But criminal justice reform advocates did not hear anything that makes them feel like the governor supports any sort of change to the status quo.

"We've had a lot of prosecutors over the past three years whispering in lawmakers ears, whispering in the governor's ear about why we should continue on with the current system of punishment," Joe Watson said.

But Watson believes this year will be different at the legislature, "we have lawmakers who have said that there is no barrier to them pushing real justice reform legislation and sentencing reform legislation. And we believe them."