The Right People in Prison: Repeat Offenders Program

Major Offenders

Crime in Arizona is at a historic low—the lowest rate since 1963. Not only is it continuing to fall, it’s falling faster than the nation as a whole. Last year, the overall rate in Arizona fell 3.4 percent, a bigger drop than the national decline of 2.6 percent. And this represents a decades-long trend.

Now why are the rates going down? We can point to a few things. Police departments have developed better policing strategies such as community policing. The public has a greater awareness of the risks of crime and ways to prevent becoming a victim. However, at MCAO, we also believe there are fewer crimes because the right people are behind bars, the repeat offenders.

According to a widely respected study conducted by the Rand Corporation, 20 percent of criminals are committing 80 percent of all crimes. The Repeat Offender Program (ROP) at MCAO is designed to address this reality.

In 1994, Arizona enacted “Truth in Sentencing,” requiring that convicted felons must serve at least 85% of their court-imposed sentence in prison. This keeps repeat or violent offenders off the streets longer, preventing thousands of crimes each year.

In 2010, Daryl Fischer, an expert on criminal justice analysis, released a study on the impact of Truth in Sentencing in Arizona which confirmed that incarcerating repeat offenders prevents crime. Between 2005-2010 an additional 3,100 offenders were imprisoned. Each of those offenders represented 11.5 repeat offenses per year, or approximately one per month. With a 33-month average prison sentence for these offenses, a total of 98,038 additional crimes were prevented.

In his study, Fischer found that of those in prison, 95.3 percent have committed a violent felony or multiple felonies. These crimes include “Dangerous Offenses” which is defined by Arizona state law as offenses involving injury, weapon use, a sex offense, or Dangerous Crimes Against Children.  Only 4.7 percent of people in prison are non-violent first offenders. It’s important to note that non-violent crimes include drug trafficking, child pornography and certain white collar crimes. More information about the impact of sentencing and incarceration on crime rates can be found at azsentencing.org.

As law enforcement agencies make strides in getting repeat offenders off the streets, MCAO’s team of ROP attorneys and staff ensure that these offenders stay off the streets.

Repeat offender policies at MCAO focus on incarceration, unlike the probation and treatment approach to many first-time offenders. Defendants are typically presented with a choice of pleading to the most serious charge with sentence enhancements based on extensive criminal histories or taking their chances at trial with longer sentencing possibilities. Because of the risk they pose for ongoing criminal activity, repeat offenders are generally ineligible for diversion programs or probation. These offenders are typically sentenced to substantial lengths of time in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

ROP attorneys and staff cooperate closely with multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the valley in pursuing and prosecuting repeat offenders for crimes ranging from armed robbery and aggravated assault to shoplifting and trafficking in stolen property to misconduct involving weapons.

The Repeat Offender Program at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has been around in one form or another for the past 20 years. At times in its history, ROP was part of the Gang Bureau, but today it stands as its own bureau in the Major Offenders Division.  The nine deputy county attorneys in ROP prosecute an average of 800 cases a year and take pride in prosecuting and getting repeat offenders off the streets.

ROP Bureau Chief Mitch Rand has been with MCAO for nearly 30 years and he takes special pride in the work he and the ROP prosecutors accomplish. “Over the years, with technology and organizational changes, the ROP Bureau has become more equipped than ever to be able to identify and prosecute these repeat offenders and career criminals. Our policies are tough and our prosecutors are tougher. Better prosecutions mean lower recidivism rates and a safer community.”