FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 15, 2018
Contact: Robbie Sherwood
Engel and Navarrete: Criminal Justice Reform Committee Should Continue
PHOENIX-- The two House Democratic members of the recently-appointed Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, Reps. Kirsten Engel and Tony Navarrete, strongly criticized the decision of Speaker J.D. Mesnard to disband the committee in the wake of Republican Chairman David Stringer’s offensive remarks made at a recent luncheon. Mesnard appointed the five-member bipartisan committee earlier this month and members held a highly successful first meeting last Wednesday at which they unanimously agreed to an ambitious scope of work designed to tackle Arizona’s fourth-highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate and its high recidivism rate.
Both Engel and Navarrete stressed the need to continue working with stakeholders on criminal justice reform even with the committee disbanded.
“Rep Stringer’s remarks were deeply offensive, but Speaker Mesnard’s decision to shut down the bipartisan criminal justice reform committee makes no sense,” said Engel. “The Committee’s work – revising Arizona’s Truth in Sentencing law to reflect national prison-sentencing norms, de-felonizing simple drug possession, and revising Arizona’s criminal record set-aside statute to prevent stigmatization of persons with certain nonviolent criminal records – is long overdue and should be allowed to continue, with or without its original chairperson.”
Navarrete similarly questioned the Speaker’s action, adding “Rep. Stringer's comments were reprehensible. But this is a bipartisan committee dedicated to solving our criminal justice system in Arizona, and its work should continue. Arizona spends more than $1.1 billion dollars a year on the Department of Corrections. Taxpayers deserve better.”
Both Engel and Navarrete pointed out that much of the work of the committee would be performed with the help of active outside experts, all of whom have committed in advance to assist with its work and several of whom attended the first meeting. These groups include county attorney and county defender offices, justice and prison reform advocacy and faith-based groups, the Administrative Office of the Courts, retired members of the judiciary and academics.
“Last Wednesday, our entire Committee, which includes four members other than Rep. Stringer, committed to meet regularly during the next six months of the interim to tackle Arizona’s skyrocketing incarceration rate,” Engel stated. “As far as I am concerned, the Committee’s charge remains just as urgent today as it was last Wednesday.”
Both Engel and Navarrete vowed to continue to meet with stakeholders to work on criminal justice reform, but said an ad hoc committee was an open and inclusive way to craft legislation.
“The meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee would be conducted in the open like any other legislative committee and the public would be allowed to participate through comments submitted through the 'Request to Speak' system or in person at the Committee’s bi-monthly meetings at the Capitol,” Navarrete said.