Mass incarceration undermines some of our most cherished American values: due process for all regardless of color, class, and creed; and equal justice under the law.
In addition to the heavy ethical toll that mass incarceration inflicts on our communities, it also wastes a tremendous amount of tax dollars. Arizona spends more than $1 billion a year on its prisons, and it costs Arizona taxpayers more than $25,000 to house one person in an Arizona prison for one year.
The Pima County Jail costs taxpayers even more dearly: we spend approximately $35,000 to house one person in the jail for one year.
It goes without saying that there are many situations in which we need to spend this money to protect our community against violent and dangerous offenders. But at a time when the single largest group of detainees in our county jail are there on warrants for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges, and many other detainees are in jail for shoplifting, DUI, and drug possession, we must recognize that it is long past time to reform our justice system in the name of fiscal responsibility. Mass incarceration is the largest and most expensive welfare system ever created. It forces taxpayers to pay for the food, housing, health care, and security of millions of people who could be working and paying taxes, instead of consuming tens of billions of tax dollars every year. This is one reason why ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system is a bipartisan imperative.