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Arizona Criminal Justice Reform Groups, Democratic Lawmakers Host 'Reframing Justice Day'

Democratic state representatives introduced a slate of criminal justice reform legislation at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday. 

Despite Republicans still controlling the chamber, Rep. Kirsten Engel is one of several House democrats proposing ambitious criminal justice reform legislation this session.

She says House Bill 2558 would automatically restore voting rights for people convicted of a single felony:

“We incarcerate people for their offense, but I don’t think that we should be taking away their civil rights," Engel said.

Other bills introduced by fellow Democrat Reps. Diego Rodriguez and Isela Blanc would create a citizens oversight committee for the Arizona Department of Corrections and automatically expunge convictions for marijuana possession.

Similar legislation has failed in the past, but the legislators said they hoped they could work with Republicans to at least get the bills a hearing this year. 

One of the advocates for criminal justice reform, Matthew Charles, is one of the first people released from prison due to the First Step Act.

Charles was given a 35-year sentence for selling crack cocaine. He was released in 2016, but then sent back to prison after a year and a half after officials said he was mistakenly released.

The First Step Act includes a provision to apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively, which reduced the disparities between sentences for crack and powder cocaine — and led to Charles's ultimate release. 

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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.