• Maricopa County needs a 21st century prosecutor. It doesn’t have one

    Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s recent op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times gets one thing right: “21st century prosecutors strive for far more than convictions.”

    But with a long record of harsh treatment of criminal defendants and opposition to criminal justice reform, Mr. Montgomery isn’t a “21st century prosecutor.”

    What does it mean to be a 21st century prosecutor?

    Earlier this month, a trio of national policy groups – The Justice Collaborative, Brennan Center for Justice, and Fair and Just Prosecution – published “21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor,” a policy blueprint for prosecutors serious about safely reducing prison populations and building a more fair and equal criminal justice system.

    4 things 21st century prosecutors do

    The Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council has released an updated report on prison populations that they say confirms the state “leads the way in criminal-justice reform.” Wochit

    Despite his claims, Mr. Montgomery falls short. Here is why:

    ●      21st century prosecutors recognize that mandatory minimum sentences are wasteful, creating huge expense with little to no benefit for public safety and recidivism rates. Although Arizona’s mandatory sentencing laws have created the fourth-highest imprisonment rate in the country, Mr. Montgomery steadfastly defends them. Under his leadership, Maricopa County has the longest average prison sentences in the state.

    ●      21st century prosecutors make diversion the rule. This includes extending diversion opportunities to people facing serious charges. Reading Mr. Montgomery’s op-ed, you’d think his office does that. It doesn’t. The primary diversion program for non-drug felony cases has had 266 participants. That’s not 266 in 2018, that’s 266 since the program’s inception in 2015. This is despite the fact that this program has had amazing results: people who successfully complete the felony diversion program have a recidivism rate of just five percent. Over the same period of time, tens of thousands of people have been sentenced to prison and probation. Diversion is not the rule in Mr. Montgomery’s office.

    ●      21st century prosecutors make sure diversion opportunities are available even to those who can’t pay. Again, Maricopa County falls far short. For a marijuana offense, where diversion is available, diversion costs $950 plus the cost of drug tests. Even the homeless and disabled have been forced to pay. Then a substantial portion of that money finds its way back into the County Attorney’s coffers. Different versions of justice based upon financial means? That’s not justice to the 21st century prosecutor.

    ●      21st century prosecutors work to end the death penalty. Given the need for more lawyers, more experts, more time, more investigation and more litigation, the result is expected: more cost. Yet the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has sought death so often that it has strained resources and even led to a crisis when Maricopa County ran out of attorneys qualified to handle death cases.

    It takes more than words. Actions matter

    It isn’t just national organizations calling for improvements. Arizona Town Hall, in their recent draft criminal justice report, recommended taking steps to reduce prolonged incarceration rates. Among the recommendations, diversion programs should be expanded and available regardless of income. Since 78 percent of Arizona prisoners have substance abuse issues, diversion and treatment can help curb recidivism and reduce incarceration rates on a long-term basis.

    I can understand why Mr. Montgomery wants to be a 21st century prosecutor. In the last few years, a wave of reform-minded prosecutors who promised to promote fairness and reduce prison populations have won elections, in many cases defeating old-guard incumbents. The reformers are Democrats and Republicans and have won in red and blue states alike.

    But being a 21st century prosecutor requires more than writing hollow words; it requires action directed at ensuring diversion programs and treatment are available for people charged with serious offenses or minor, with long criminal histories or none, who are impoverished or affluent.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Montgomery’s record doesn’t match his rhetoric.

    When widely supported criminal justice reform bills were offered just this year, Mr. Montgomery used his influence behind the scenes to remove any real impact from the proposals. A 21st century prosecutor fights for reform, not against it.

    I agree Maricopa County needs a 21st century prosecutor. We don’t have one yet.

    Mikel Steinfeld is the President-Elect for the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. Mikel resides in Maricopa County.

    Mikel Steinfeld, opinion contributor – https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2018/12/22/maricopa-county-attorney-21st-century-prosecutor-bill-montgomery/2340222002/

    Categories: Civil Rights, Community, Legislating Morality, Litigation and Challenges, Statistics and Research

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