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MCAO: Contrary to narrative, Arizona prison population is declining

Bill Montgomery (Twitter Photo/@marcoattorney)

PHOENIX – Metro Phoenix’s top prosecutor is pushing back against the narrative that Arizona’s prison population is growing out of control.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office released statistics Wednesday showing a decline in prison commitments in recent years.

“We’re sending fewer people to prison, we continue to have low crime rates, our prison population is reducing, and we’re expanding diversion,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“I think we’re doing everything that people who have been clamoring for various types of reforms in our criminal justice system wanted, and this subjective data is the proof.”

According to the statistics, annual prison commitments declined by 12% statewide and 30% in the Phoenix area from 2010 to 2017.

“That is significant,” Montgomery said. “In turn, it does appear to be reflective of a drop in our prison population.

“The last couple of years we’ve seen the prison population decline. Six out of the last 10 years we’ve seen negative growth.”

A study by FWD.us published last year found that the Arizona prison population grew by a multiple of 12 between 1978 and 2016, far faster than national prison population, which quadrupled.

The bipartisan political organization, whose founders include Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, also found that minorities and people in rural counties faced prison sentences at a higher rate than the general population in Arizona.

Montgomery said the trends seen in the data compiled by his office reflect the fact that more people are being granted parole and programs to reduce recidivism have been effective. In addition, he said, crime rates are at a 50-year low.

“Those who are going to prison are going to prison for greater criminal histories and more violent crimes,” he said.

“But what we’re doing is we’re able to stop first-time offenders from offending again, and we’re providing better programming.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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