When some dems broke ranks to vote for a recent child abuse bill, they forgot their commitment to criminal justice, our contributor argues

  • By Alison Jones Special to the Arizona Daily Star
  • Mar 19, 2021

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

I was dismayed to read that only one member of our Arizona State House voted “no” on House Bill 2889, which would impose mandatory minimum sentences for dangerous crimes against children. Of course such crimes are reprehensible. At first blush, the concept seems reasonable. But there are better ways to protect children. HB 2889 is really nothing more than grandstanding.

The national Democratic Party and the Pima County Democratic Party platforms oppose mandatory minimum sentencing. Why?

First, mandatory sentencing is a charade which transfers sentencing authority from judges to prosecutors, who should not have this type of undue leverage over defendants. Judges should make sentencing decisions — that is their job.

Second, mandatory sentencing is one of the primary drivers of mass incarceration. It helped make the U.S. into the prison capital of the planet, and has locked more Blacks behind bars per capita than South Africa during the height of apartheid. We cannot rescue mandatory sentencing from its inherent racist origins and expressions.

Finally, it is impossible to anticipate every extenuating circumstance and unintended consequence of such laws. Discretion in sentencing — for all crimes — must be a possibility.

For these reasons and more, the Democratic Party opposes mandatory minimum sentencing. To the legislators who opted to ignore their party platform because of inconvenient optics, I say this: Leadership is hard.

You were elected to make difficult decisions. In your haste to avoid appearing to be lenient on crime against children, you took the easy way out. In doing so, you perpetuated another perversion: perversion of justice.

The courageous, lone dissenter on the bill, Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, suggested a better way when she wrote “If we really cared about victims, we would bring back (Rep. Paul) Boyer’s original bill from 2019 which would lengthen the time for victims of past abuse to identify their abusers. … I wouldn’t have any problem putting away chronic, long-term abusers who are still hiding in churches, youth groups, sports teams and schools. HB 2889 does nothing to accomplish that goal.”

Bravo, Powers Hannley for seeing through the virtue signaling, and standing up for children and our values.

Alison Jones is chair of the Pima County Democratic Party Platform Committee and the past PCDP Chair

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