A new bill just introduced in Arizona would be, if passed, the most comprehensive sentencing reform measure in the state in the last 25 years.

HB 2808, which was introduced by Republican Walter Blackman on February 6, 2020, proposes significant reforms in sentencing reductions for nonviolent offenders in Arizona. The bill does not attempt to change the particular sentences prescribed in the Arizona Criminal Code for various offenses. Rather, the bill is aimed at reducing, in certain circumstances, the amount of time behind bars for prisoners who have already been convicted and sentenced. It would do so by increasing the amount of earned release credits for participation in a drug treatment program or a “major self-improvement program.”

Prisoners currently earn one day off for every six days served, as “good time.” By contrast, the new bill could lead to an additional day and a half off for every six days served for program participation. This could result in a total reduction of about 30% in the time they spend behind bars, as compared with the time set at their original sentencing.

Back in 1994, in the midst of the “tough on crime” era, Arizona passed legislation that required non-violent offenders to serve 85% of their sentence. Until recently, Arizona was only one of three states in the entire country to apply an 85% rule to non-violent offenders. While this was reduced to 70% for some inmates in a law passed last year, that law only applies to convictions for drug possession.

An important aspect of the new proposal is that it would apply retroactively, that is, to those who are currently serving sentences for (non-violent) offenses in Arizona. It would also require the Arizona Department of Corrections to conduct a yearly study of the recidivism rates of prisoners who are released under the proposed law, following each person released for a period of three years.

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