Maricopa County needs smart justice, not more convictions

Here’s how the next Maricopa County attorney can prioritize fairness and justice in the community

October 20, 2022 10:47 am

Photo via Getty Images

Every day, prosecutors use vast discretion to decide who is charged with a crime and how severe those charges will be. Unfortunately, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) has used that power to create a legacy of seeking harsh convictions and excessive sentences for low-level crimes. In fact, Arizona’s prison population grew by 60% in twenty years despite a decline in actual crime — and Maricopa County was the top incarcerator

The county attorney’s job is to seek justice, but more convictions and longer sentences are rarely the answer. In fact, research consistently shows that higher incarceration rates do not decrease violent crime and could actually make communities less safe.

This year, voters have the opportunity to elect someone who will reverse this legacy of mass incarceration, not perpetuate it — which is why our organization is focused on educating voters so that they know where candidates stand on key issues. Here’s how the next Maricopa County Attorney can prioritize smart justice and ensure everyone in the community is treated fairly.

Protecting doctors from criminalization for providing lifesaving abortion care

The uncertainty around Arizona’s abortion bans have caused confusion and distress — especially for doctors and the people who need care. Already, people have had to leave the state to access abortion care and doctors have been forced to temporarily close their doors at a moment’s notice.

People who are denied abortion are more likely to experience poverty, struggle to secure food and housing, and stay in contact with an abusive partner. If the next county attorney truly wants to make safety a priority, they will commit to using their prosecutorial discretion to keep abortion providers out of prison so they can continue to provide essential, lifesaving care.

Prioritizing marijuana expungement, so outdated charges don’t prevent people from getting a job or access housing

MCAO had a reputation for aggressively prosecuting people for marijuana possession up until voters legalized it in 2020. Those sentences are tied to a felony offense — making it significantly harder for anyone with a conviction to secure stable housing, get hired for a job, and access basic services. 

When voters passed Proposition 207, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office took steps to help clear marijuana convictions. However, there’s still a long way to go to reverse decades of harsh prosecutions that have ruined too many lives. The next county attorney can right this wrong and process more expungement petitions so hard-working people can get back on their feet.

Making sentencing data and policies transparent to improve accountability

Extreme policies and biased sentencing practices at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office have shattered trust for many. And data has already exposed MCAO’s history of prosecuting people differently depending on the color of their skin or their ZIP code.

Everyone deserves a fair trial and just sentencing, but some people receive different sentences for the same crime because of how they look, where they live, or how much money they have.

A county attorney is accountable to their constituents, just like any other elected official. Increasing transparency by making all of the office’s sentencing data and decisions publicly available is an important step to ensure prosecutors are treating people fairly. 

Voters can elect a county attorney who will seek real justice

Incarcerating more people for longer periods of time does not prevent crime or improve safety. The county attorney can use their power to seek justice, without relying on excessive convictions or criminalizing people for their healthcare decisions, for the profession they hold, or the communities where they live. 

Maricopa County voters must learn where each candidate stands on these key issues and decide if their positions align with community needs. Only then will we begin to see real justice in the criminal legal system and throughout the county.


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Jennifer Allen Aroz
Jennifer Allen Aroz

Jennifer Allen Aroz is the executive director for the ACLU of Arizona, leading the organization as it works to advance equity and dismantle systemic injustice by taking legal action, influencing policy, and mobilizing our communities to protect the civil rights, liberties, and dignity of all Arizonans.