by Dustin Campo
The 111th Statewide Arizona Town Hall, “Criminal Justice in Arizona,” at the Sheraton Crescent, November 8-10, 2018 was a great opportunity to be part of the conversation about how Arizona approaches criminal justice, both now and into the future. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, district and county attorneys, judges, public defenders, police officers, probation officers, heads of probation and DOC, State House Representatives, the formerly incarcerated and their families, students, victims’ rights advocates and many others from all walks of life came together and worked hard to find the areas where we could all agree that reform was needed. Passions were high, and conversations were difficult at times. The final report will contain consensus statements (for more information on the process go to the Arizona Town Hall website) regarding what Arizonans’ priorities should be about criminal justice reform, what can be done to reduce recidivism, what improvements can be made pre-incarceration and post release, and a variety of other topics.
There were several presentations and panel discussions that were enlightening and informative. Felicity Rose from fwd.us gave a wonderful presentation about the report they generated as a precursor to the town hall meetings which analyzed the relevant facts and statistics related to Arizona’s current criminal justice system. A copy of that report can be found at AZ Town Hall.
A panel discussion with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, Karen Hellman from DOC Reentry Services, Frantz Beasley Co-Founder of AZ Common Ground and Sarah Douthit, Coconino County Chief Probation Officer included a Q&A session that dug deeper into the issues, kept the speakers honest which required them to acknowledge some of the darker aspects of their programs that might otherwise be brushed under the rug, and offered some hopeful solutions for reform.
We were able to make significant contributions to the final report, which will be available in the spring. There was a recommendation that people shouldn’t have to pay for the rest of their life for a single mistake. I submitted a recommendation for consensus that Arizona should evaluate the efficacy of the Sex Offender Registry. Prosecutors were aggressive in their objections to this recommendation, and I was made to re-submit my statement which found consensus a second time. I am proud to say that statement will be included in the final report. Another statement was submitted by a criminal defense attorney recommending we give judges the discretion to terminate the requirement to register as a sex offender. That statement also found consensus and will be included in the report.
Several issues were raised repeatedly. Diversion programs that offer alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from addiction and mental health issues were repeatedly addressed. Reducing the classification of certain crimes to reduce the associated penalties was also raised. Redirecting the seemingly unlimited power of prosecutors to judges and eliminating mandatory minimums was another focus.
My own personal take away was that people are becoming more emboldened to take on the inherent inequities built into the system. The language used in these recommendations was important to people and indicated a keen understanding of the stigma attached to labels.
Overall, it was a good day for justice reform. We made our voices heard, stood our ground, found powerful allies, and learned how to effectively work with the opposition to find areas of common interest. This will ensure that we get a seat at the table moving forward for similar conversations. We clearly and powerfully laid a foundation for change. I look forward to seeing how we all come together to build upon that foundation in the coming months. We still have much more work to do, but with our collective focus, drive, determination and unity, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.