Prison and sentencing reform have been major bipartisan issues in the Arizona House for the past few years. Although there has been much bipartisan effort and many bills proposed, pretty much everything was stopped at the committee level by former Legislators and Judiciary Chairs John Allen and Eddie Farnsworth.
Those two are both gone. Rep. Walt Blackman’s Criminal Justice Committee has passed several good bills on prison reform, sentencing reform, and prison oversight.￼ Several of them have passed the full house.
Unfortunately, the House is passing mandatory sentencing bills at the same time as we are advancing reform.￼ I was the only person who voted against HB2889.
Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s HB2889 is all about punishment. It ignores the fact that most people in prison were abused children. Focusing on punishment — while ignoring prevention, rehabilitation, and expansion of victims’ rights to report past abuse — won’t solve this problem. In fact, Senator Paul Boyer’s child abuse reporting bill from 2019 — which Republicans fought vehemently against — would do a lot more to catch chronic abusers who roam amongst us. Even after passing a watered down version of Boyer’s bill, Arizona law still severely restricts reporting past abuse and protects pedophiles, not victims. I fully support adoption of Boyer’s original bill which gave past abused children to age 30 to report past abuse.
Let’s lock up the chronic abusers. I’m tired of reading stories about priests, church elders, coaches, Boy Scout leaders, and other adults who have spent their lives preying on children. Boyer’s 2019 bill would have given victims a voice. HB2889 doesn’t do that.
Mandatory sentencing feeds the prison industrial complex because it dictates a (often overly harsh) minimum sentence that judges must stick to. Why is mandatory sentencing a big deal? Because we know that justice in the United States is not colorblind. If our justice system were fair, the prison population would reflect the country’s population in terms of race and ethnicity. We all know that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned in this country.￼ Once they have been prisoners, they lose their right to vote, and it is harder for them to get jobs and housing.￼
I voted against this bill because I stand against mandatory sentencing, for prison reform, and with the American Civil Liberties Union, Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the American Friends Service Committee.￼
Let’s lengthen the time for adults who were abused as children to come forward and identify their abusers. That would go farther to stop child abuse than Biasiuuci’s bill.
In a recent commentary in the Arizona Daily Star, former Pima County Democratic Party Chair Alison Jones reminded the Democrats who voted “for” HB2889 that the party’s official platform is committed to ending mandatory sentencing.
Here’s a link to a 2019 blog post about Boyer’s bill and the Republican battle to silence victims.