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Series Of Meetings To Address Earned Release Credits For Arizona Inmates

The Arizona Legislature is not in session but lawmakers are meeting in committees to prepare for next year.

On Monday, Rep. Walter Blackman convened the first of several committee meetings on earned release credits for people sentenced to the state prison system.

“Today, Arizona provides few opportunities for people in prison to turn their lives around,” Blackman said. He spoke about his goals for the Earned Release Credits For Prisoners Ad Hoc Committee.

“We will search for realistic measures to create a system of earned release credit for non-dangerous and non-violent offenders,” he said. 

Blackman said he was open to discussing how those terms are defined and who should be eligible to reduce their time spent in state prisons by completing programming.

Monday’s meeting began with testimony from prison reform groups and representatives of the Arizona Department of Corrections. 

Karen Hellman, division director of Inmate Programs & Reentry, told the committee the amount of programming available to inmates impacts their ability to qualify for current earned release credits. Expanding credits to more inmates would require more staff, she said.

Hellman told the committee in addition to needing more educators, ADC’s drug treatment programs are also understaffed. She said only 10 of 26 funded substance abuse counselor positions were currently filled.

Blackman said the committee would meet again at 10 a.m. on Sept. 9 to discuss providing wraparound services for people transitioning from prison back to society. He said the public would be able to speak at a committee meeting Sept. 23.

Blackman conceded that the committee may not produce any bill at all. He said the committee would vote on whether to make potential new legislation it creates retroactive at the last meeting.
He said the committee’s work is about drafting potential legislation that could be introduced in the next session. Blackman said he hopes to craft a bill with language that is palatable for all sides.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.