The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a call for radical changes in the criminal justice system in the State of Arizona. The report, issued this month, focuses first on the fact that over the past 50 years, the United States has increased dramatically its use of and reliance upon the criminal justice system to respond to mental illness, drug addiction and poverty. This has led to the fact that today, the U.S. has more people incarcerated – in terms of absolute numbers and per capita – than any other country in the world!
That statistic would be bad enough, but when you look at Arizona, it becomes immediately apparent that the Draconian policies responsible for these numbers are not being applied even-handedly. Here are some of the disturbing statistics which support the ACLU call for an overhaul of the criminal justice system in Arizona:
- Arizona is number four among the states with the highest rate of imprisonment in the United States.
- Arizona imprisons Latinos at a higher rate than any other state in the nation. In 2016, for example, one out of every 40 Latino men in Arizona was in prison.
- Among Latino prisoners, many more are in jails and prisons because of convictions for drug possession and drug sales than for other crimes, including assault, DUI or burglary.
- About 14% of the Arizona prison population is made up of black men. At the same time, black people constitute only 4% of the total population in the state.
These figures become even more significant when you consider the sentencing laws in the state. First and foremost, more than half the people in prison in Arizona were convicted of a non-violent offense. Thirty-two percent of prison admission in Arizona are for drug possession and/or distribution. When you take those figures and add laws that (a) require many prisoners to serve 85% of their sentences, and (b) contain mandatory sentences for many crimes, you end up with a prison system that is overwhelmingly made up of minorities, most of whom have been incarcerated for drug crimes.
The study suggests several methods of reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. They include, among others, ending the practice of “over-policing” in communities of color; providing alternatives to incarceration; and altering a bail system that fosters wealth-based pretrial detention.
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