On Shooting A Man Then Shaming Him For Bleeding

blaming the victim for crime 1

Police bias vs. black-on-black crime

The subject of black-on-black crime inevitably arises during any debate about race and racial bias in the criminal justice system. One of its most vocal denouncers is Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City. On January 11, she participated in a debate entitled “Is Policing Racially Biased,” and stated that contemporary policing is data driven, and that patterns of policing today do not demonstrate police bias, because police simply go where the crime is. According to Ms. MacDonald, objective statistics show that crime is disproportionately a minority problem.

According to the Justice Department, Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That’s because Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined according to the Justice Department. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime, though they’re 15% of the population in those counties. These crime disparities are repeated in every big American city. Here in New York, Blacks commit 75% of all shootings, though they’re 23% of the population…whites commit 2% of all shootings, though they are 34% of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for 98% of all shootings in New York City. This means that virtually every time the cops are called out to a shooting scene, they’re being called to a minority neighborhood on behalf of minority victims and being given a description of a minority suspect. The cops don’t wish that disparity. It’s a reality forced upon them by the reality of crime.”

There are well-written and well-researched pieces, supported by data, arguing these statistics are “a dodge, it’s a smokescreen, it’s a red herring, it’s bullshit.” But behind the debate over whose statistics are correct lies the question of how much Ms. MacDonald and her fellow travelers actually care about the lives of Black people.

The truth may be that they don’t care very much. The people who protest black-on-black crime the loudest are precisely the same people who vehemently oppose social policies that mitigate the poverty and inequality that so often causes crime. When Ms. MacDonald is not talking about policing, she does not seem the least bit concerned with protecting or enhancing the well-being of African-Americans.

The inseparable illnesses of crime and poverty

Crime does not arise in a vacuum, and none but the most ardent racists believes that one ethnicity is predisposed to commit more crime than others. One of the factors that intuitively and empirically contributes to crime rates is poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published a special report which found that black and white households living in poverty were much more likely to be victims of crime, and were victims of crimes at similar rates. Poverty also tends to create criminals, as two Scottish researchers documented in a groundbreaking study which followed the lives of 4,300 children as they transitioned to adulthood.

Yet poverty is not colorblind. As of February 2015, 1 in 10 Asians and non-Hispanic whites lived below the federal poverty line ($24,600 per year for a family of four), compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic/Latinos, 1 in 3 Native Americans, and over 1 in 4 African-Americans. In absolute numbers, 42% of all poor people are non-Hispanic whites, yet they make up 62.6% of the overall U.S. population.

federal poverty line by ethnicity

Percentage of population by ethnicity living below the federal poverty line

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped in 35 states in the fourth quarter of 2016, the African-American unemployment rate exceeded the white unemployment rate in every state where Black unemployment rates could be computed. The Black unemployment rate was highest in Washington, D.C. at 13%, while the white unemployment rate was highest in West Virginia at 5.3%. That unemployment picture looks far more dire when we factor into it how many Black men are locked behind bars, and therefore cannot look for work.

black unemployment rate including prison

While there has long been a gulf in wealth between white Americans and people of color (white families have earned on average $2 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families have earned for the last 30 years), that gap has widened since the 2008 economic crises; by 2013 the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families. Redlining – the arbitrary denying or limiting of financial services to specific neighborhoods because the residents are people of color or poor – has afflicted communities of color for generations, with economically devastating results.

Decrying the disease but criticizing the cure

Heather MacDonald’s crime stats may or may not be correct, but what they do for certain is falsely insulate crime rates from the old, pernicious problem of race-based poverty that commentators like her either completely ignore or consciously obfuscate.

Ms. MacDonald never digs below the surface to ask why crime rates are so high among communities of color. Nor does she seem very interested in proposing solutions to the crime problem that do not involve additional policing. On the contrary, Ms. MacDonald has been a vocal critic of exactly the kind of social policies intended to alleviate the poverty and systemic inequality that gives birth to high crime rates.

In her 2001 book “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society,” Ms. MacDonald dismisses much of New York City’s social welfare programs as “progressive nonsense.” She has condemned putting day care centers in schools to simplify life for teenage mothers, and admitted that she has “always loathed” affirmative action. Ms. MacDonald has also criticized “out-of-wedlock births, particularly among blacks” as the real of cause poverty, and disdainfully asserted that school textbooks have been “revised in accordance with the multiculturalist agenda,” which presents “American history as a morality play whose primary theme is the oppression of virtuous ethnic minorities by a monolithic evil white majority.” She has displayed a startlingly ignorant, ethnocentric view of history by claiming, “The concept of an inclusive, tolerant society is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and of it alone.” Finally, she has called for limiting Hispanic immigration into the United States, which she views as the importation of an underclass with the potential to expand indefinitely,  and sought to disabuse sentimentalists who cling to “the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue.”

A painful and transparent insincerity

In his masterful work Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote,

Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence on language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel…The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Crime among and between African-Americans cannot be separated from centuries-old policies of racism and oppression, which set the stage and skewed the risers. When criminologists and commentators like Heather MacDonald address the crime problem, they make no attempt to contextualize it or even engage with its historical roots. But Ms. MacDonald uses buzz words to make it seem like her focus on black-on-back crime is motivated by altruism, as she did during her January 11 debate, when she stated, “According to the Justice Department, Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That, to me, is the civil rights issue that we should be most concerned about.”

This seems to be the very kind of linguistic violence that Ta-Nehisi Coates condemned. While Ms. MacDonald is more than happy to adopt the rhetoric of civil rights to defend American policing, she has consistently and vocally opposed social polices that would benefit the very crime victims she claims to champion. If Ms. MacDonald and other commentators of her ilk cared about the victims of black-on-black crime, or sincerely wanted to prevent such crime from occurring, they would champion school desegregation, oppose voter suppression, insist on investing in urban economic development, and demand radical reform to our failed health and child care systems. Instead Ms. MacDonald does the opposite. She condemns the black people who commit black-on-black crime, then actively opposes policies intended to alleviate the poverty and racism which breed that very criminality.  Ms. MacDonald isn’t just shaming the bleeding man; she is working to ensure an endless supply of blood-sotted shooting victims.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney Does Not Prosecute Hate Crimes

prosecuting hate crimes 3

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. Recent days have seen the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement just last week promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.

– Joel Feinman

Tucson Is Not Like Chicago – Solving Old Murders Helps Prevent New Ones

chalk body outline

In recent months President Trump has called for a new national initiative to reverse what he sees as a sharp increase in violent crime across the nation. On February 7, the President told a gathering of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the nation that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Two days later, in his first public comments made immediately after he was sworn in as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions stated, “We have a crime problem. I wish the blip — I wish the rise that we’re seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”

While violent crime is still at historic lows, murder rates are rising in some U.S. cities

Neither President Trump nor Attorney General Session’s assertions are borne out by objective facts or FBI crime data. The murder rate — defined as the number of murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 residents— went from a high of 10.2 in 1980 to 4.4 in 2014. The raw number of homicides in America has declined from 19,645 in 1996 to 15,696 in 2015, even while the population has risen from 265 million to 321 million during that same period.

US murder rate

Likewise, despite Attorney General Session’s assertions to the contrary, long-term US violent crime trends have been declining — not increasing— for years.

US crime rate

However, while overall national crime rates are still at historic lows, it is true that 2015 and 2016 have seen upticks. Violent crime ticked up roughly 4% from 2014 to 2015. The murder rate increased to 4.9 in 2015, and the Brennan Center for Justice has projected an additional 14% increase in our 30 largest cities when all of the 2016 numbers are in.

The recent spike in homicide rates is real, but it is also a highly localized problem. It is not the fictitious nation-wide trend decried by Attorney General Sessions. 2016’s 14% increase in the urban murder rate is mostly accounted for by two very specific murder spikes: one in Chicago and one in Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, Chicago’s murder increase will alone account for almost half of the overall 2016 urban murder increase. This invites two questions: what is wrong with Chicago, and how can we ensure Pima County doesn’t follow Chicago’s lead?

Chicago murder rate

U.S. and Chicago murder clearance rates drop

According to the Brennan Center, some reasons for the increasing violence in Chicago include, “falling police numbers, poverty and other forms of socioeconomic disadvantage, and gang violence.” One factor the Brennan Center gives less attention to, and which may go a long way towards explaining things, is the murder clearance rate.

In law enforcement, a murder case is “cleared” when a suspect is arrested, whatever the eventual judicial outcome may be. “Clearance rates” are a measure of what percentage of murders results in an arrest. For years, it was difficult for researchers and criminologists to accurately ascertain true clearance rates in big cities and small towns across the country. But in 2015 Thomas K. Hargrove, a retired investigative journalist and former White House correspondent, founded the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP). Hargrove created MAP to track unsolved homicides nationwide, using algorithms to study the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Every year Hargrove downloaded and crunched the most recent FBI data set, and was shocked by the number of murder cases that had never been cleared — 211,487 — more than a third of the homicides recorded from 1980 to 2010. Bloomberg Business week recently published a profile of Hargrove and his work, and explained how U.S. homicide clearance rates have been on a longtime downward trend.

US murder clearance rates

Disturbingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – murder clearance rates also appear to be plagued by the same racial and gender disparities that haunt the criminal justice system as a whole.

 Clearance rates by demographic

“If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings?”

How does all of this relate to what is wrong with Chicago? Well, as Bloomberg journalist Robert Kolker wrote in his profile of Thomas Hargrove and MAP, it seems intuitive that at least some murderers will kill again, and if so, low clearance rates will correlate with higher murder rates. Sure enough, Hargrove confirmed this when he analyzed information from 218 metropolitan jurisdictions in the 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report, and found that the homicide rate in low clearance rate cities was almost double the rate of high clearance rate cities — 9.6 homicides per 100,000 people versus 17.9. “It makes perfect sense,” Hargrove said. “If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings? The answer is, it does.”

The data from Chicago supports this thesis. While the national murder clearance rate has held roughly steady since 2000, the Chicago rate has dropped precipitously.

Chicago murder clearance rate

Tucson is not like Chicago

In 2015 Chicago’s homicide total hit 472, and police cleared just 123 of those cases – a 26% clearance rate. Compare this to Pima County, where law enforcement cleared 37 of 48 homicides in 2015- a 77% clearance rate. Our police and Sheriff’s deputies also did a better job than their counterparts North of the Gila River; Maricopa County law enforcement cleared 127 out of 172 homicides in 2015 – a 74% clearance rate.

2015 clearance rates

It is important not to view improving murder clearance rates as a magical panacea. Violent crime in Chicago and other U.S. cities is undoubtedly exacerbated by the social factors the Brennan Center listed. However, Thomas Hargrove’s Murder Accountability Project has demonstrated a strong correlation between higher clearance rates and lower murder rates.

Obviously hiring more police officers, and ensuring they are well-trained and well-paid, would likely improve the situation in areas struck by the recent uptick in violent crime. But as criminologist Charles Wellford demonstrated in a study published in 2000, clearance rates also depend on how quickly detectives respond to a murder scene, how effectively they can cordon off the scene and interview potential witnesses, and whether detectives are given the leeway to chase leads in the hours immediately after a murder, even if that means paying them overtime. These may be important reasons why Tucson is not like Chicago. In the face of a new moral panic over a fictitious crime wave— created and stoked by our President and Attorney General— it is important to keep our criminal justice efforts focused on scientific, qualitative law enforcement, and it is important to be proud of Pima County for what it has been doing right.

– Joel Feinman

Pima Sheriff’s Home Detention Program protects & saves taxpayers $450,000

Pima County home detention program

For almost two years, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has been at the forefront of implementing a home detention program for low-level, non-violent offenders that has saved Pima County taxpayers $450,000 and counting.

422 enrollees; 0 escape attempts

Created in April, 2015, by India Davis and Corrections Lieutenant Elsa Navarro, the Sheriff’s Home Detention Program originally only applied to people convicted of misdemeanor DUIs. Recently the program has expanded to include people convicted of other misdemeanors and some low-level, non-dangerous felonies who have been sentenced to jail time, although alcohol-related convictions still compose the majority of the program. For years such people have been allowed out of jail during the day to go to work, but have been required to return to the jail each night as part of a program known as “work release” or “work furlough.” The Home Detention Program allows these people to spend nights in their home, while equipping them with a GPS ankle bracelet that constantly tracks their location. The GPS system is accurate to within 10 feet, and each bracelet emits a ping every 5 minutes to constantly inform the jail that enrollees are where they are supposed to be. The system can be adjusted to ping every 60 seconds if necessary, and the jail automatically gets an alarm if an enrollee attempts to tamper with the monitor or ventures within 5 miles of Pima County limits, a train station, airport, or any other exclusion zone that the jail can set, such as a victim’s house. 422 people have enrolled in the Home Detention Program since its inception, and there has not been a single attempt to escape or remove a GPS monitor. As part of the vetting process each enrollee is required to sign a Notice of Intent to Prosecute, informing them that any escape attempt will be prosecuted as a class 5 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

“A very stringent vetting process”

“We are very selective about who gets into the program,” interim Corrections Chief Sean Stewart told The Pima Liberator. “There is a very stringent vetting process, and we don’t want to set anyone up for failure.” As part of that process all potential enrollees are required to fill out an Inmate Interview sheet, where they must disclose all of their residence information, work information, vehicle information, and criminal history. They are also required to sign an Inmate Agreement that includes the following provisions:


Home Detention Program inmate agreement provisions

Even after people are enrolled in the program and equipped with a GPS monitor, they are still required to report to the jail in person once a week for alcohol and drug testing.

Keeping the community safer

A key concern with work furlough and work release programs is that law enforcement cannot know for sure if a person is actually going to work when they are released from jail during the day. In one instance a person on furlough was released to go work, and jail personnel did not hear from them until they received a call from Border Patrol telling them that the same person was caught coming back from Mexico while attempting to smuggle a load of drugs in to the U.S. “Home detention is much safer for the community than work furlough or work release,” said Captain Stewart. “In this program the jail knows where you are at all times, and tells you where you can and cannot go.” The Home Detention Program is staffed by 5 Sheriff’s Sergeants who log into the system daily to make sure all enrollees are where they are supposed to be – a fail-safe backup to the system’s built-in, automatic notification software. One additional Pima County Sheriff’s Sergeant has the full-time assignment to monitor and evaluate all enrollees. According to Captain Stewart, Lieutenant Navarro, and Captain Darin Stephens – three corrections officers who oversee the Home Detention Program – they would like to see the program expanded to included people in jail awaiting trial. “The average Pima County jail stay is 10 days. No one should be in jail for 10 days; they should either be in jail until their trial or home,” said Captain Stewart. If someone has a job and is not a threat to their community “they should be allowed to keep working, support their kids, and pay their taxes.”

Effective and fiscally responsible law enforcement


Daily costs per inmate

Funding for both the Home Detention Program and the Pima County Jail comes from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department budget, which comes from the county general fund in the form of property tax revenue. The Pima County Jail costs taxpayers $89 per inmate per day, compared to the Home Detention Program which costs only $11 per inmate per day for GPS ankle monitoring, and $15 per inmate per day for GPS and alcohol monitoring. Thus the Home Detention Program costs taxpayers almost 500% less than jail time, which has translated to a saving of $450,000 in taxpayer money since the Program was created in 2015.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Home Detention Program is exactly the kind of forward-thinking, effective, and fiscally responsible law enforcement that we should be promoting and supporting. According to Captain Stewart, the Home Detention Program can only continue to succeed with judicial and community buy-in. Our prosecutors and judges need to make more people eligible for home detention. The only practical limit to the potential size of the program is the number of people in Pima County Jail – both awaiting trial and serving a sentence – who are not a danger to the community, and who should be out of jail working and contributing to society. For every tax dollar we spend on GPS home detention we save exponentially more dollars by not locking people up. We also increase the employment rate, decrease the number of people who need public assistance when they get out of jail, and prevent families from being torn apart by needless and unjust incarceration policies.

– Joel Feinman

“Tough On Crime” Deepens Mental Health Crisis

Mass incarceration trauma 1

The bogeyman of “state intrusion” – a phrase usually used as a euphemism for taxation or regulation among advocates of small government – is a popular one. However, it is difficult to understand the full meaning of the phrase until the state intrudes into your home, through your body, and through your children’s bodies. People who have been incarcerated and their families understand this very real encroachment of the state into their personal lives.

In his October, 2015 article, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, Ta-Nehisi Coates charts the policy history which culminated in today’s mass incarceration crisis. As Coates points out,

“In absolute terms, America’s prison and jail population from 1970 until today has increased sevenfold, from some 300,000 people to 2.2 million.”

This crisis is a financial one and a practical one. By now it is a well-documented fact that the rates at which we incarcerate people have not had any notable effect on crime rates. Yet mass incarceration has been one of the most expensive ventures in the modern history of our country.

It is a human crisis.

Coates correctly points out that there is a causal relationship between the poor material conditions experienced by individuals living in poverty and certain risk factors which lead to criminal behavior. These same individuals often live without access to many of the social services afforded to the well-off, such as healthcare and behavioral services. Moreover, it is clear that poverty and crime have a cyclically causal relationship, which can easily be traced through the history of the many structures of institutionalized racism which, for centuries, have plagued people of color and African-Americans especially.

From a psychological perspective, it is crucial to point out the fact that the experience of poverty drastically increases the likelihood that an individual will struggle with addiction and experience mental health issues, such as PTSD and C-PTSD. Without proper treatment, these issues may lead to unemployment and even homelessness. Among others, Coates identifies these four risk factors – homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, and mental illness – as particularly common in low-income African-American communities, and as common causes of criminal behavior.  He describes it as such:

“High rates of incarceration, single-parent households, dropping out of school, and poverty are not unrelated vectors. Instead, taken together, they constitute what [Harvard sociologist Robert] Sampson calls ‘compounded deprivation’—entire families, entire neighborhoods, deprived in myriad ways, must navigate, all at once, a tangle of interrelated and reinforcing perils.”

Per Coates’ assessment, cases of PTSD  and other mental illnesses which go untreated are often the cause of criminal behavior in low-income communities of color.

Oppression produces and exacerbates trauma and its consequences.

Though  not an excuse for harmful behavior, criminal behavior does not occur as a result of some moral failing on the part of poor people of color. Rather, a lack of services available to address the material conditions which lead to trauma and its ramifications is to blame.

I know firsthand about the traumas that members of vulnerable communities experience. In these communities, PTSD is primarily caused by neglect, prolonged material deprivation, and sexual violence. Moreover, there is a clear overlap between the conditions people of color (especially women of color) experience when they have severely limited access to social services, and the factors which lead to trauma-related conditions. Women of color are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and sexual trauma is commonly overlooked in areas where incarceration is favored over treatment.

Incarceration only accelerates the poverty-prison pipeline, and repeated trauma further speeds it along. It is especially common for female inmates to be revictimized in prison. The cycles of abuse, violence, and drug dependency (factors which produced criminal behavior in the first place) continue to occur behind bars. A highly punitive and retribution-focused approach to prosecution, especially for nonviolent crimes, is not only draconian but also ineffective. So-called “tough on crime” crackdowns punish the most vulnerable people in our communities, and thereby fuel the system of abuse and revictimization by adding the state as an agent of that abuse yet again, this time in the form of a prison.

There is no documented evidence to support the claim that incarceration is effective in addressing these issues: in fact, it is quite clear that incarceration only exacerbates cycles of poverty and trauma. Moreover, the explosive growth of the prison industry over the last 40-50 years has been tremendously costly to taxpayers who do not benefit from its perpetuation.

In the age of mass incarceration, the state has different functions for different groups of people. The prison-industrial complex produces profit for some. Its price is the capture of black bodies and their forced labor, abuse, and traumatization in prison.

– Tara Taylor

Under LaWall administration Pima County incarceration rates swamp Maricopa

Pima County Attorney mass incarceration

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall was first elected to office in 1996. In that time we have seen an explosion in the population of the Pima County jail, a growth even larger than what took place under Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County.

According to figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization, between 1970 and 2014 the Maricopa County Jail incarceration rate grew by 58% per 100,000 residents, while the Pima County Jail incarceration rate exploded by 210%. In 2014, the last year for which comprehensive numbers are available, Pima County actually had more people being held in its jail per 100,000 residents, 320, than Maricopa County had per 100,000 of its residents, 301.


The average length of a jail stay in Pima County has also increased dramatically, from 14 days in 1996 when Ms. LaWall was first elected to 23 days in 2014.


This vast increase in incarceration rates would be more comprehensible if Pima County was experiencing a historic crime wave, but according to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, our state is enjoying record low crime rates. In an article they co-wrote and published in The Arizona Republic in December, 2015, Ms. LaWall and Mr. Montgomery told the people of Arizona that “Arizona crime rates [had fallen] to 40 – 50 year lows,” that violent crime was at its lowest level since 1971 and property crime at its lowest level since 1963, and that “the big news in Arizona is that we are outpacing the national decline [in crime] by a significant margin.”


At the same time as crime is falling, so are the number of people arrested. The Arizona Department of Public Safety reports that, from 2002 – 2013, the number of people arrested in Pima County fell by 30% – this at a time when Pima County’s population increased by 12%.

Our criminal justice system is not created and maintained by a deus ex machina. Real people decide every day who goes to jail and how long they stay there for. Every day the Pima County Attorney decides who to recommend bail for, who to try and hold in jail with very high or no bail, and what kinds of mandatory jail terms to offer in plea agreements. Until we start holding them accountable, until we start demanding answers for why we have exploding incarceration rates at a time of historically low crime and arrest rates, the plague of mass incarceration and the erosion of our civil liberties will only worsen.

– Joel Feinman

4 criminal justice reform bills headed to AZ Legislature

legislative bill

A bipartisan coalition of groups, including The Goldwater Institute, The American Friends Service Committee and The American Civil Liberties Union have worked together to create a policy package intended to save taxpayer money, reduce recidivism, and make Arizona criminal laws more just.

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee will hear these four bills this Thursday, February 2, at 9am. The following AZ Senators sit on that Committee – contact them over the legislature’s request to speak (RTS) system, or email or call them to make your voice heard about the pressing need for criminal justice reform in Arizona.

Nancy Barto (R) – nbarto@azleg.gov; 602-926-5766
Judy Burges (R) – jburges@azleg.gov; 602-926-5861
Lupe Contreras (D)- lcontreras@azleg.gov; 602-926-5284
Andrea Dalessandro (D) – adalessandro@azleg.gov; 602-926-5342
Frank Pratt (R) – fpratt@azleg.gov; 602-926-5761
Martin Quezada (D) – mquezada@azleg.gov; 602-926-5911
Bob Worsley (R) – bworsley@azleg.gov; 602-926-5760

SB1069 / HB2291
This bill allows people to petition courts to expunge their conviction 5 years after they have been released, as long as they have not had any additional violations. This allows ex-offenders greater access to jobs, increasing the probability they will remain productive members of society.

SB1071 / HB2290
This bill allows qualified non-violent ex-offenders to obtain a temporary, provisional license to work in specialized fields and increase their probability of obtaining stable employment. It provides the person the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and commitment without increasing risks for the employer.

SB1067 / HB2154
This bill provides appropriate penalties for technical parole violations that do not interrupt the reentry and reintegration process. Keeping people with technical parole violations out of prison allows them to maintain employment and sustain contact with their families and communities. This increases the probability that they will remain productive members of society.

This bill reduces the mandatory 85% time offenders must serve for less serious, non-violent offenses. If a person is determined rehabilitated prior to that 85% mark, they would be released to community supervision so that they may obtain employment and become productive taxpayers.