A new report released this month by the American Friends Service Committee describes the problems with drug sentencing and prosecution. Drawing attention to drug sentencing issues in Arizona, the title sums up their findings bluntly: “Drug Sentencing in Arizona: A Prescription for Failure.”
The report was funded by a grant from the Public Welfare Foundation. Researchers compiled data from courts concerning drug arrests, convictions, and sentences: important information that had never been collected in one place before.
Reform groups such as the AFSC have long argued in favor of treating drug abuse and addiction as a public health problem instead of a criminal justice issue. Research findings that support this argument:
- 21.8% of prisoners incarcerated in Arizona state prisons were convicted solely of drug-related crimes. That number rises to 32% for female prisoners.
- In Maricopa County, 45.32% of charges filed are for drug possession. You can be charged for possession based on any amount of illegal drugs, including residue.
- Less than 3% of prisoners classified as having a serious addiction are receiving rehabilitation treatment. The researchers attribute Arizona's nearly 50% recidivism rate with the lack of effective treatment programs.
- It costs taxpayers $588,655 per day to incarcerate our population of prisoners whose most serious conviction is a drug offense. Furthermore, every dollar spent on addiction treatment would save $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. In the past decade, Arizona has increased corrections spending 28.4%.
- Mandatory sentencing laws require judges to dole out harsh sentences to those found guilty of drug offenses. Prosecutors often add sentence enhancements, which eliminate the option of seeking probation or alternatives to prison.
The recent focus on the opiod epidemic has once again brought drug use into public policy debate, but unlike the draconian reaction to the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, many jurisdictions are choosing to try rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
It is estimated that 80% of crimes in the United States are linked to drug or alcohol use. A focus on rehabilitation would not only shrink the population of people in prison for drug possession, it would also very likely decrease instances of theft, assault, and other crimes.
While reforms of this nature could affect my caseload, I am ultimately in this business to help individuals and families overcome challenges. As a former prosecutor, I have an insider's perspective of how these charges are dealt with and how they can be defeated. Please call Garcia Law if you are facing drug charges in Arizona.