What is the Second Chances, Rehabilitation, and Public Safety Act?

A non-partisan steering committee of local and national experts on criminal justice and public safety began working on the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act (Second Chances Act, for short) in early 2019. The team sought input from leaders in law enforcement, criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse and victims services to identify priorities and develop great policy for Arizona.

Ultimately, the coalition wanted to safely reduce the prison population, expand rehabilitative programs, reduce recidivism, address the root cause of crime, create a more just sentencing system AND save taxpayers money. 

In particular, the Second Chances Act does the following:

  • It incentivizes people in prison who are serving time for non-dangerous offenses to break the cycle by allowing them to earn additional earned release credits for good behavior and participation in rehabilitation and education programs. For decades, these programs have been shown to reduce recidivism and ultimately create safer communities.
  • It gives courts discretion to impose lesser sentences for non-dangerous offenses. Often, judges are bound by outdated and merciless sentencing guidelines. This act allows judges to use discretion in the interest of justice and considering input from victims, individual circumstances, and rehabilitative options.
  • It establishes a fund that will provide services for victims of violent crime to reduce unaddressed trauma and ultimately prevent future crime. It also and to address trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by first responders in the line of duty.
  • It clarifies when a non-dangerous offender may be sentenced based on “a historical prior felony conviction.” Put simply, the initiative clarifies that the words “prior conviction” actually mean “prior conviction.”

These new policies would not apply to anyone convicted of dangerous crimes against children, a dangerous offense, or anyone convicted of murder, sexual assault or assault against a law enforcement officer. 

They would only apply to non-dangerous offenders who shown a commitment to improving themselves while serving their sentence, and allowing them to earn their release so they can return to their homes, jobs and families and return to being productive members of the community.

Why is this necessary now?

Arizona has the fourth highest imprisonment rate in the country and taxpayers spend more than $1 billion on the prison system every year. Arizona taxpayers now spend more on corrections than state colleges and universities and other critical state budget priorities.

Arizona should adopt reforms that will save hundreds of millions of dollars every year by reducing its imprisonment rate for non-violent offenders, allowing the state to invest in other critical crime-prevention priorities and giving people a chance to return to being productive members of the community.

People convicted of minor crimes such as drug possession should be held accountable with alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment, supervised probation, victim restitution payments or community service. Addressing the root causes of crime, including mental health and substance abuse, works better than just locking people up in prison for expensive and excessively long sentences.  Research proves this.

Over the past 20 years, Arizona’s prison population has increased by nearly 300%, and the state’s corrections budget has increased by more than 400%, despite a drop in violent crime. 

As the Department of Corrections acknowledges, this growth is costly and unsustainable. More than a billion dollars – one of every $11 dollars in the state’s general fund – is spent on incarceration and corrections. By simply bringing Arizona’s corrections policy up to modern standards, more money will be available for important priorities including crime prevention, mental health treatment, education and infrastructure. 

Are other states doing this?

The proposed policy changes are part of a sweeping, national non-partisan commitment to good governance and effective approaches to public safety. The movement began in Texas in 2005 where lawmakers decided to treat and rehabilitate those arrested for non-violent crimes versus warehousing them in jails. They expanded mental health and addiction services and diverted thousands of folks into treatment. Ultimately, the state has closed eight prisons since the policy shifted, and violent crime is at an all-time low in Texas. 

More than 30 states have followed Texas’ lead and undertaken some form of criminal justice reform. Michigan, for example, posted its lowest recidivism rates since the state began recording three-year re-incarceration rates. The state invested in a “Offender Success” program that provides prisoners with education, skills and job training so that upon release, prisoners can become a safe, stable, productive member of society. 

The Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act is designed to build on these successes. 


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