As faith leaders, we understand that we are living through a critical moment in which we are called to love our neighbors in word and in deed. That call to love extends to all of our neighbors, even those who have made mistakes.
Arizona legislators can put that love for our neighbors into action by granting redemption and grace to our incarcerated brothers and sisters. They can do this by voting to pass SB 1064, which would expand earned release credits for thousands of Arizonans currently behind bars, reuniting families and rebuilding our communities.
Arizona is one of three states that requires almost everyone to serve 85 percent of their sentence behind bars with no opportunity to earn any time off their sentence for following the rules and participating in rehabilitative programming.
These long sentences are why Arizona has the fifth highest imprisonment rate in the country, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion every year.
Arizona doesn’t have more crime, or even a larger population than other states. Our staggering imprisonment rate is driven by failed policy choices that send more people to prison, and for longer, for first-time and non-violent offenses.
It hasn’t made us any safer. People in Arizona serve some of the longest sentences in the country – 40 percent longer for drug offenses than the national average and twice as long for non-violent property offenses.
SB 1064 would change that. It would allow people incarcerated for drug and other non-violent offenses to earn significant time off of their sentences. Our lawmakers should pass SB 1064 to offer a meaningful opportunity for people to earn their way home, reunite families, and strengthen our communities.
This approach will allow for healing, redemption, and rehabilitation, rather than an endless cycle of hopelessness and hurt.
For too many years, Arizona’s criminal justice has not made our communities safer: it has separated children from their parents, prioritized harsh punishment over of rehabilitation, warehoused people in abhorrent conditions, unnecessarily reduced the tax base, and wasted taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment, education, and healthcare.
Arizona’s incarceration crisis harms every single person in our state, but it is particularly damaging to Black and Hispanic Arizonans. In 2017, Black Arizonans were only 5 percent of our state’s population, but 13 percent of prison admissions. Hispanic Arizonans represented 31 percent of the population but 37 percent of the people admitted to prison.
Unsurprisingly, Black people sentenced to prison in Arizona receive longer sentences compared to white and Hispanic Arizonans, too. It is clear that offering meaningful opportunities for release and rehabilitation are critical in the fight against injustice and ending these race-based disparities that are crippling our communities.
Expanding earned release through SB 1064 would offer grace for so many people who have been denied it their entire lives.
What a meaningful way to love our neighbors – by reuniting families, bringing people safely home to their communities, and allowing them the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
We are connected in this fight for justice, and we must overcome these challenges, or fall together. In this moment, while we are all seeking healing and redemption, SB 1064 provides a pathway for that common goal.
Katie Sexton-Wood is executive director of the Arizona Faith Network; Paul Rockower is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; and Mustafa Bahar is executive director of the Sema Foundation.