Crime rates in Arizona may be falling, but incarceration rates are going up, says Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer. And while numerous advocacy groups, community organizations and Arizona lobbyists have been pushing for criminal justice reform, Volkmer says there’s no easy way to go about this.
“There’s a big push right now to release a lot of people that are currently in prison, but it’s not that simple,” he said during a recent luncheon at the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce. “It will take more than releasing a portion of the prison population.”
Recidivism a Big Concern
Many prisoners released are in danger of recidivism — reoffending and returning to prison. “When you go to prison, you lose your house, your job, your connections to society,” Volkmer says. “So we have these people who come back out, who have no place to go, who have no money, no job, being put back into this negative environment that causes the problems in the first place.”
Drug offenders make up a high percentage of the inmate population, and many are dealing with addiction, yet only a small portion of inmates are receiving treatment. “We know they’re going in with drug addiction issues, we know very few are getting treatment, and they’re not getting a lot of treatment. We know they’re coming back into our community,” Volkmer says.
“I don’t believe every person who commits a crime needs to go to jail,” the county attorney says. Volkmer encourages the use of diversion, specialty courts, adult probation and prison to hold offenders accountable while giving them the skills necessary to reintegrate into society successfully.
“I want to make sure that the public understands, we live in a good time,” Volkmer says. “We always think ‘it was so much better when we were kids; it was so much better when our kids were kids.’ That’s not true. As far as pure safety goes, we are actually safer.”