Mission Focus

Mission Focus Topic 2019:

 Criminal Legal Reform is a fundamental transformation of mindset about the criminal legal system. Criminal Legal Reform as the AFN 2019 Mission Focus Topic will focus on changing the public mindset and addressing the persistent inequalities in the system based on race and class.

 As an AFN Mission Focus topic, this realm will include efforts to:

  • Assist faith communities in learning the issues plaguing our criminal legal system

  • Amplify the voices of those impacted

  • Advocate as allied partners and

  • Encourage people of all faiths to remain aware, responsive and connected to people impacted by the issue.

 It will emphasize the need for reforms in policies and practices, such as: reevaluation of sentencing inequities, promotion of healing and transformative justice practices; and full reintegration of ex-offenders into the community.

 Foundational and operational issues will be incorporated into the Mission Focus Topic work going forward. Even though these issues are not the Mission Focus Topic, they will provide the underpinning for the work we do.

 Foundational Issues

• Economic Disparity/Inequality
• Racism
• Engagement with Indigenous People

 Operational Issues

• Courage to Speak Publicly (promote prophetic voices)
• Identify opportunities for funding
• Sharing Our Stories
• Website of Partner Resources

 II. Background in Arizona

The following data points emphasize the issue of criminal legal reform in Arizona:

  • The Arizona incarceration rate per 100,000 people is 2,126 African Americans and 842 Hispanic, compared to 444 Whites (Nellis, 2016).

  • Across the state, 2 in every 19 African American males are incarcerated (Nellis, 2016).

  • In 2016, Arizona had an incarceration rate of 901 per 100,000 people. Arizona has the highest incarceration rate among western states (Wagner & Walsh, 2016).

  • Between 1992 and 2015, the prison population in Arizona increased by 171%. In 2016, Arizona allocated 11% of the total state budget to the Department of Corrections (Hunting, 2015).

  • First introduced in 2005 in Arizona, private prisons now hold 15% of the total state prison population (Gottsfield, Hammond, & Elm, 2017).

  • Private prisons companies generate income through contracts based on per diem rates. Arizona and three other states require 90%-100% bed guarantee for private prison contracts (In the Public Interest, 2013).

  • In Arizona prisons, incarcerated nonviolent offenders exceed incarcerated violent offenders. Under “truth in sentencing,” a prisoner must serve 85% of their time (Gottsfield, Hammond, & Elm, 2017).

 III. AFN Efforts to Date

  •  Although a faith, equity and inclusion event was held on this topic in 2018, several issues within this topic are still very relevant, timely and amenable to public policy impact.

  • AFN has a large number of faith partners who have leaned forward on this issue. Faith Communities represented on this issue include: United Church of Christ, Catholic, Shrine of Holy Wisdom, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, United Methodist Church, Quaker, Presbyterian Church USA, Bahá'í, Mennonite, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Islam, and the Episcopal Church

  • This issue also provides significant common ground with African American and Latino faith communities

  • Other current partners with significant expertise on this issue may include: Arizona Criminal Justice Reform Committee (led by Creosote Partners); retired judges; prison chaplains; ACLU Smart Justice; AZ Humanities; LUCHA; Florence Project; Morrison Institute; American Friends Service Committee; AZ Foster Care Initiatives

  • Also, this issue poses potential federal policy advocacy opportunity with the First Step Act (bill currently under consideration)