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Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery backs prison reform bill

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

PHOENIX — The sweeping prison reform bill making its way through Congress has the support of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, though he does have some concerns.

Montgomery calls the bill “a good first step” and said he likes that it mirrors what’s already being done in Arizona to address recidivism.

He says the state has been offering programs to those currently incarcerated in order to help reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend after they’re released.

“The emphasis on recidivism reduction programming is a direction that we’ve been talking about in Arizona for a few years now,” he said. “So I think it’s a good thing for the federal government to follow in those footsteps.”

The bill, dubbed the First Step Act, was already approved in the U.S. Senate. It’s expected to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives, and President Donald Trump has already signaled he would sign it into law.

It includes a provision to expand job training programs as a way to help keep former inmates from returning to prison. It also would give judges more latitude in sentencing for some non-violent offenses, which Montgomery said he doesn’t fully support.

He pointed to how giving Arizona judges greater discretion in the 1970s resulted in disparities in sentences imposed.

“More presumptive or determinate sentencing I think provides greater assurances to the community, to victims, to offenders and to those responsible for negotiating resolutions – defense attorneys and prosecutors – a much better sense of what different types of offenses are going to carry for different types of punishment,” he said.

Montgomery said he also would’ve liked to see the prison reform bill keep a provision requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to track cohorts of inmates after they’re released to see if certain recidivism programs were effective. That provision was taken out.

“I think that’s a huge missed opportunity,” he said. “By not looking at recidivism rates at one, three, five, seven, or nine years out, we’re missing the chance to sort of prove the effectiveness of some of the programming.”

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