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Arizona Prison Study Shows Racial Disparities In Sentencing, Inmate Population

A new study from the political organization FWD.US says there is an imprisonment crisis in Arizona and the results show sentencing disparities among minority groups. 

The analysis is based on more than 30 years of data. FWD.US reviewed all Arizona prison admissions from July 1985 to June 2017, finding black and Hispanic people are sent to prison in Arizona at disproportionately high rates.

Felicity Rose is director of research and policy for criminal justice reform at FWD.US. She says while the total Arizona population has grown 33 percent since 2000, the prison population has grown 60 percent.

“Crime in that time is down both in terms of total numbers of crimes and as a rate," Rose said, "so we know that there are more people going to prison for fewer crimes.”

Rose says drug crimes make up a large part of the racial disparities. She says the numbers show Hispanics are almost twice as likely as whites to go to prison for marijuana possession, accounting for 31 percent of Arizona’s population but 58 percent of the people going to prison for that crime.

Rose said blacks in Arizona are both more likely to go to prison and serve longer sentences:

“So for drug possession a black person’s average prison sentence is 56 months. A white person’s is 36 months," Rose said. "So that’s an additional 20 months that somebody would serve without a real reason that we could see for such a low-level crime.”

The report cites the use of a “repetitive offender enhancement” being used disproportionately in Arizona as one reason for the skewed rates.

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Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.