PHOENIX— In light of recent coverage regarding proposed criminal justice legislation and characterizations of the use of prison in resolving cases from Maricopa County, this office looked to the objective case disposition data from the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide a clearer picture. Specifically, we reviewed annual statistical reports available at https://www.azcourts.gov/statistics and found the below information we thought would be helpful in fully and responsibly covering this topic.
The number of annual prison commitments fell from 8,004 in FY 2010 to 5,550 in FY 2017, a decrease of 30%. The state prison population is down a second year in a row and has seen negative growth six out of last ten years, all at a time of historic lows in crime. We have achieved this drop without negatively impacting public safety by distinguishing between offenders who would best benefit from drug treatment or other recidivism reducing programs, and offenders responsible for the greatest amount of crime and acts of violence against our fellow Arizonans.
The graph below shows courts across Arizona are sentencing defendants to prison less now than any other time in the last eight years. In just the past four years, there has been a significant and steady decline seen year-over-year. This is also reflected in the ongoing year-over-year decline in the number of inmates incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons.
Maricopa County’s share of the state’s overall population rose to more than 60%, yet Maricopa County still accounts for less than 50% of the state’s prison commitments. In fact, when reviewing DOC Commitments and population growth since FY 2010, Maricopa County has reduced the rate of imprisonment by 37%.
There are three main areas of emphasis contributing to these results. The first is the continued use of diversion programs and deferred prosecution to reduce the likelihood of first time offenders returning to the criminal justice system. More information on these programs is here- https://www.maricopacountyattorney.org/303/Diversion-Programs.
Another contributing factor is the success seen with Adult Probation and programs offered through probation in reducing the number of probationers who commit a new felony and face being sentenced to prison on the new offense. Another contributing factor is the continuing emphasis on reserving a prison sentence for those who pose the greatest risk of causing harm to our community through either repetitive offenses or crimes of violence.
The graph below shows that probation grants have steadily increased over the last four years, while prison commitments have steadily declined. For the last reported year, FY2017, 77% of criminal case dispositions resulted in a grant of probation, while only 23% of such convictions resulted in commitments to prison.
This data reflects MCAO’s ongoing commitment to seek justice by conscientiously identifying the most appropriate disposition for various types of offenders. Just as there is not any one given way to commit a crime, there is not a one-size fits all approach to promoting public safety and ensuring justice for all.