A libertarian on the state supreme court, and now this bit of promising news.


PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey is going to ask lawmakers today to do something that generally sends most Republicans scurrying for cover: Consider whether everyone the state is sending to prison actually belongs there.

In an interview with Capitol Media Services ahead of today's State of the State address, the governor said that many of the state's mandatory sentencing laws were put in place at a time when crime was a top priority.

Now, he said, crime rates are down. Yet the state's inmate population is burgeoning, to the point where Arizona does not have the cash to build the prisons fast enough. So the state has entered into contracts with private firms to construct and operate the facilities.

Consider: At the end of the 2006 fiscal year there were 34,797 inmates behind bars. As of this past Friday, half way through this fiscal year, that figure is 42,566, including more than 6,400 housed in private prisons at state expense.

Looking at it another way, the state's population increased 10.5 percent in the same period. Yet the number of people behind bars is up by more than double that.

Ducey suggested that trend is not sustainable.

"I think if you're serious about reversing the direction in terms of prison population, you need to look at how we're handling some of these issues,'' he said.
"There are people that we are scared of that belong in prison,'' he said. "There are also people we are mad at that may not belong in prison.''

And that, Ducey said, requires a close look at differentiating the two groups.

"Something we want to look at is not only how we get the bad guys in terms of drug cartels and human trafficking, but then how we deal with people that have been affected by addiction and how that affects our prison population,'' he said.

Ducey said that question of whether addicts belong behind bars goes beyond who is sentenced to prison in the first place.

"What I'm talking about there is, after someone is released from prison and they go on parole, oftentimes they can find themselves back in prison due to technical violations,'' he said. "So how do we deal with those people, especially if it's a result of addiction, so that we're not taking someone we're mad at and turning them into someone we're scared of.''

Ducey's foray into the area of prison reform has political risks.

As far back as 2003, Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford worked for years to revisit the sentencing structure, saying the state could not afford the burgeoning costs of its prison system. That included reclassifying some crimes now considered felonies to be misdemeanors to a total rewrite of the sentencing code.

That incurred the wrath of fellow Republicans to the point where then-Sen. Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, used his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that such measures did not even get a hearing.

Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, had no better luck with his own special legislative committee, which also looked at sentencing reform. Prosecutors successfully blocked those from becoming law.