Arizona is experiencing a general decline in crime rates, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. This applies to both violent crimes and property crimes. At the same time, the states prison population continues to grow. It sounds like something must be wrong with the system, given these two seemingly incongruous facts. Here are some of the statistics on the issue:
- The prison population in Arizona has risen 60% since the year 2000. That rise is ten times the national average (which was only 6%) during the same period.
- Since 2000, Arizona’s violent crime rate and property crime rate have dropped by 44% and 12%, respectively.
- About 20% of the Arizona prison population is incarcerated as the result of drug possession convictions.
- Drug possession and drug-distribution charges account for about a third of the state’s prison population.
- One in every five prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge was convicted of an offense involving marijuana.
- Approximately one in every five prison inmates in Arizona is housed in a private prison. That’s four times the national average.
There are various reasons for the size of the prison population in Arizona. They include mandatory minimum sentences, and failure to address issues such as substance abuse and mental health problems. In that regard, it is estimated that 90% of the state prisoners could benefit from substance abuse treatment, and more than half have mental heath issues that are not being addressed.
Along with the swelling prison population, it has been noted that the racial disparities in the Arizona prison system need to be separately dealt with. While Arizona has the fourth highest per capita prison population in the country, it has the highest Hispanic prison rate among all the states, and the sixth highest prison rate for blacks.
The ACLU and others have suggested various reforms that would reduce the rising prison population. They include cutting sentences in half for drug offenses, assault, burglary, fraud and certain other crimes. They also suggest that the state bolster social programs. Finally, there has been a call for the creation of policies that deal directly with racial bias.
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