It was a room full of attorneys, judges, law enforcement representatives, social workers and community members - all invested in making Arizona better. Even when that meant asking hard questions, and tackling difficult issues like Arizona’s criminal justice system.
They were all gathered at the Embry-Riddle Hangar for the Arizona Town Hall meeting. The event was sponsored by the Ray and Patty Newton Foundation here in Prescott.
Ray Newton was a sponsor of the local Town Hall held on September 12, 2018 in Prescott at Embry Riddle.
The Arizona Town Hall seeks to resolve issues of interest in the larger Arizona community through consensus, not division. They start with questions and respectful dialogue that, "...values diverse perspectives, builds relationships and fosters leadership development."
As frequent Town Hall participant Talonya Adams described, "Arizona Town Hall builds unity, voice and purpose."
Each year, the Arizona Town Hall takes on one topic, holding local meetings across the state developing consensus at each location. The consensus reports from local communities are then brought to a statewide meeting to finalize a concluding Recommendations Report on the issue of the year.
A Statewide Discussion
Criminal Justice in Arizona is the Arizona Town Hall focus for 2018. It is a discussion that has been bubbling to the surface in the state for some time now. This summer, Representatives David Stringer (R-LD1) and Tony Rivero (R-LD21) have held meetings at the Capitol to study Criminal Justice in Arizona. These meetings are an outgrowth of a bipartisan study group that met weekly last year which was led by Stringer and Representative Kirsten Engel (D-LD10).
“Public safety is the first duty of government,” said Representative Stringer. “Yet Arizona’s prisons house many non-violent, low level offenders who need mental health and substance abuse treatment. Only a small percentage of these prisoners actually receive treatment while incarcerated. We need to look at more cost-effective ways of dealing with this population to facilitate their reentry into society and reduce recidivism.”
Governor Doug Ducey led an effort to reduce recidivism of convicted felons, directing state personnel offices to "ban the box", working with Uber to help convicted felons with transportation to job sites, and creating a "re-entry center" to help ease the transition from prison to mainstream society. Just last week, Governor Ducey met with players from the Arizona Cardinals to discuss needed continued reforms.
Daniel Ruiz II, Ducey's senior advisor for communications and policy strategy, said Ducey has "prioritized reforms to reduce the prison population and the rate of recidivism -- focusing on solutions that will help individuals both outside and inside our prison system, including second chance centers to provide job training, substance abuse treatment, and expanding inmate fire-fighting crews.
"But there’s more work to be done, and the governor is grateful to the Cardinals for their interest in continued reforms," Ruiz said in his statement.
Arizona Town Hall Brings the Conversation to the Community
This year, through the Arizona Town Hall meetings, local communities and residents are able to contribute ideas and diverse perspectives on the issue.
The introduction to the Arizona Town Hall report on Criminal Justice in Arizona explains the topic:
"Arizona’s criminal justice system (CJS) touches everyone in the state. Even those who will never see the inside of a courtroom must shoulder the tax burden of maintaining our system of courts, jails, prisons and police forces. Every Arizonan also benefits from the protections offered by this system.
"Criminals are seldom sympathetic figures, and politicians of every stripe score points with the electorate by promising to “get tough on crime.”The natural human reaction may be to lock away those who violate the norms of society. But this reaction should not prevent us from looking at the underlying principles of our criminal justice system and searching for the most efficient, economical and humane solutions to the problem of crime.
"With more than $1 billion spent annually in the state to maintain the CJS, it is worth asking whether that money is being spent wisely. But before that question can be addressed, there should be some thought about the purpose of the system.
"Is the purpose of our criminal justice system to punish those who commit crimes, or is it to rehabilitate them so they don’t offend again? Perhaps it is to protect citizens from crime?"
The questions discussed at the table groups included:
1. What should be the principal goals for Arizona’s criminal justice system?
2. What could be done, and by whom, to improve Arizona’s criminal justice system prior to incarceration?
3. What could be done, and by whom, to improve Arizona’s criminal justice system after incarceration?
4. What one action will you take as a result of your participation in this Community Town Hall?
At the end of each question's discussion, every table read their statements to the larger group. Eric Marcus, Chief Administrator of the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority Institute (NARBHA), and acting as the "Town Hall Scribe" then listened to what each table said and consolidated it into a single statement.
Watch the introduction to the topic here, along with the final statements for each question as reported by Marcus:
Afterwards, Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher spoke about the Arizona Town Hall: