Arizona’s population has doubled in the last 30 years, but the state’s prison population has increased tenfold, from 3,377 inmates in June 1979 to 40,477 inmates in June 2010. 1
In December 2008, Arizona became the first state to implement performance-based adult probation funding pursuant to Senate Bill 1476. 2 Under this incentive-based approach, probation departments receive a share of the state’s savings from less incarceration when they reduce their revocations to prison without increasing probationers’ convictions for new offenses. Probation departments are required to reinvest the additional funds in victim services, substance abuse treatment, and strategies to improve community supervision and reduce recidivism.
In 2009, the first year of its incentive funding plan, Arizona saw a 12.8 percent decrease in revocations of probationers to prison, including decreases in all but three of the state’s 15 counties. 3 There was also a 1.9 percent reduction in the number of probationers convicted of a new felony. 4 In Mohave County, the probation department in 2009 reduced its total revocations by 101 and the percent of its probation caseload revoked for a new felony dropped from 4.6 to 1.1 percent. 5 This saved the state $1.7 million in incarceration costs that otherwise would have been incurred and Mohave County officials are expecting the state to fulfill its end of the bargain by appropriating 40 percent of the savings to the County in the next budget.
How did Mohave County achieve these results? In short, they implemented evidence-based practices – those techniques that research has shown reduce the risk of criminal behavior. Assistant Probation Chief Alan Palomino noted: “First we looked at our revocation process and at who we were revoking. There were a lot of technical violators who missed appointments or were just not doing exactly what was required of them on their probation. We looked at ways to motivate them toward cooperation and buying into their own probation process.” 6
The enhancements in Mohave County to their approach to probation included:
Training probation officers to utilize motivational interviewing, which is a method of therapy that identifies and mobilizes the client’s intrinsic values and goals to stimulate behavior change. Motivation to change is elicited from the client, and not imposed from without. It is assumed that ambivalence or lack of resolve is the principal obstacle to be overcome in triggering change. In an example of motivational interviewing, an officer may ask a probationer questions designed to elicit self-motivational statements such as, “What are you afraid might happen if things continue as they are?” and “What might be some advantages of changing your behavior?” 7 Motivational interviewing has been designated by the National Institute of Corrections as one of eight evidence-based practices that contribute to reduced recidivism. 8
Separating the minimum-risk offenders from the medium- and high-risk populations and varying supervision and caseload levels for each group, with one officer handling minimum-risk offenders in each city within the county.
Better identification of the needs of each offender such as substance abuse programs, educational programs, and anger management.
Implementing Moral Recognition Therapy, which is a cognitive educational program that helps probationers understand that their own choices have put them into their situations and become accountable for their actions.
Immediate consequences for violations and positive accolades for accomplishments.
Despite this progress, Arizona policymakers are looking at additional options for improving their criminal justice system. They are facing both a budget crisis and a September 2010 projection by the state corrections department that 8,500 new prison beds will be needed by 2017 at a construction cost of $974 million, not including operating costs of well in excess of $150 million a year. 9
1 Arizona State Auditor, Report to the Legislature on Prison Population Growth, Sept. 2010.
2 Arizona Senate Bill 1476 (2008). Amending Sections Related to Probation.
3 Eric Boehm, “Probation Changes Could Solve Prison Dilemma: Shift funds to front end of system to save money, says expert,” Pennsylvania Independent, Feb. 2010, May 2010.
5 “Mohave County leads state with reduced probation revocations,” Arizona Rural Times, Feb. 2010, May 2010.
7 Edward Pecukonis, Ph.D., “Module IV: Motivational Interviewing,” Nov. 2009.
8 National Institute of Corrections, “Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention,” (2004), Oct. 2009.
9 Arizona State Auditor, Report to the Legislature on Prison Population Growth, Sept. 2010.