House OKs bill letting non-violent inmates earn time off


The Arizona House has unanimously approved a bill that will give all non-violent state prisoners time off their sentences if they work in prison or take drug treatment or major self-improvement courses while behind bars.

Republican Rep. Walt Blackman’s proposal was approved on a 60-0 vote Thursday night. Blackman has worked on sentencing reform measures for two years and had faced opposition from tough-on-crime lawmakers. But Blackman persisted after the 2019 session and eventually won over opponents.

“This has been a work over the summer, and a lot of you have been involved in this,” Blackman said as the vote was held. “So thank you all very much, and God bless each and every one of you.”

A bill enacted last year allowed inmates serving time only for drug offenses to serve 70% of their sentences. All other prisoners must currently serve at least 85% of their term under Arizona’s truth in sentencing law.

Blackman’s proposal allows inmates who haven’t been convicted of a violent crime to earn up to 1 1/2 days credit for every six days served if they take the required courses or work while behind bars. That means some non-violent prisoners would be able to be released after serving as little as 65% of their sentences.

He says his proposal will boost public safety and cut down on the number of repeat offenders.

Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel has praised Blackman for his persistence. She did so again Thursday night.

“I think the person we need to thank here is Rep. Blackman,” Engel said. “He just didn’t let this issue go. So thank you.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The Legislature may feel under added pressure to pass a sentencing reform bill after advocates for overhauling Arizona’s criminal justice system filed an initiative proposal addressing the issue last week. The proposed initiative would cut the sentences of non-dangerous offenders to 50% if they behave in prison. It also would authorize the use of state revenue from medical marijuana sales to hire more substance abuse counselors for inmates.

Backers must collect about 237,000 valid signatures by July 2 to get the measure on the November ballot.

Republished with the Permission of the Associated press.