Arizona Prisons are Tough
Arizona incarcerates at one of the highest per capita rates in the nation. Prison reforms that have occurred in many other states might help Arizona trim that rate and possibly allow the money to be put into programs that help inmates reintegrate and refrain from reoffending. Such programs can help increase the productive segments of society which then contribute rather than costing.
Arizona locks up approximately 589 residents per 100,000 people. This rate is bested by only five other states. There are high costs associated with incarcerating so many people. Shockingly, the Arizona Department of Corrections budget for the upcoming year comes in at a staggering number of over $1 billion, which is 11 percent of the State’s general budget. Divided out this comes to roughly $150 annually for each and every resident in Arizona from child to senior. This number has gone up about 40 percent in the last seven years as compared to education which has dropped 12 percent. It would seem that spending priorities might just be a little backward.
So, how have other states helped reduce incarceration rates and reduce expenses? Prison reform. In the past there has been a consensus that imprisoning criminals and keeping them behind bars is the way to reduce crime rates. But some recent studies are finding this is not necessarily true. In fact, there is evidence that some of the states that have undertaken prison reform and worked hardest to reduce incarceration rates and at the same time use that funding for programs that help rehabilitate, and not return to prison a second time, are seeing the most significant drop in crime rates. Unfortunately, traditional prison system thinking also leads to a cycle of poverty which can then lead to additional crime and hence prison sentences. Rehabilitation programs, which provide structure and assistance, show great promise in actually reducing future crime by helping released inmates become more productive members of society.
35 states passed prison reform laws in 2013. Arizona was not one of them. Although a difficult issue to tackle, Arizona prison reform may be just the thing needed to help reduce incarceration rates, costs, and to better rehabilitate inmates back into productive society.