Several Republican legislators are blasting a proposal to put some prison inmates into a home arrest program - a proposal that actually was floated by their own party leaders.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said many of the people who would be eligible for this early release were originally charged with very serious offenses. He said the fact they were convicted of or pleaded guilty to some lesser crime as part of a plea deal does not make them suitable for home arrest.
"They jeopardize women and children," Harper said.
The fight stems from a request by legislative budget staffers to the Department of Corrections to figure out how much money the state could save if it allowed some people to serve the last year of their sentence on home arrest instead of behind bars.
That request was based on direction from the Republicans who chair the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
Based on the criteria presented, the savings was pegged at $22 million.
Harper subsequently got the Department of Corrections to provide him a list of who would be eligible. That list included not just the charge for which each was doing time, but the list of the original crimes for which each was arrested.
Of 300 he reviewed, Harper found 50 who he said should not be released, even to a home arrest program, one day before serving their full sentence.
The list is heavily populated with those charged with dealing or trafficking in drugs, many with more than 100 pounds of marijuana. There also were several whose prior charges or records included multiple drunken driving convictions, domestic violence, theft and child abuse.
Harper said these people would be automatically released into home arrest if the program were enacted.
Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Harper is correct in saying these people could be released because they may meet the criteria legislative staffers set out: no prior felony convictions, no sex offenses, no violent offenses and within one year of release date.
But Lamoreaux said Harper left out one critical element: Even if an inmate met those criteria, the plan still required each case to be reviewed, individually, by the Board of Executive Clemency. Lamoreaux said that panel could decide if an individual would be a danger to the community, even if required to wear a global positioning system ankle bracelet and subject to drug and alcohol testing.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the idea was dismissed as soon as it was proposed.
But a draft budget crafted by GOP leaders less than three weeks ago still includes the idea as a possibility as a way to deal with a $3 billion deficit next year. The only difference is that the potential savings was trimmed to $14 million.
Pearce said the idea is being dropped, with most Republicans who control both the House and Senate unwilling to do anything they believe would compromise public safety. So far, though, the GOP leadership has not yet produced any new proposals without the program.
Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, said she is against early release because anyone getting out of prison would need to look for a job.
She said the current 7.8 percent unemployment rate means even people without criminal records are having a hard time finding work. The result, said Gray, is these former inmates would return to a life of crime.