When the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and American Civil Liberties Union invited appointed Republican Maricopa Attorney Allister Adel to a Mesa forum to discuss criminal justice issues of concern to them, she declined the invitation.

The five Democrats (Julie Gunnigle, Tamika Wooten, Will Knight, Bob McWhirter, and Ryan Tait) vying to defeat her in the November elections did accept the invitation.

The forum, held at the Humanist Society offices in Mesa on 627 West Rio Salado, was a standing room jammed packed event attended by a couple of hundred people. Several other candidates for county office (Deedra Abboud, Jeanne Casteen, Aaron Connor, and Dan Toporek) and Congressional District Six Candidate Dr. Hiral Tipirneni were among the attendees.

For a little over an hour, the people listened to the five Democrats discuss their qualifications and positions on criminal reform issues related to:

  • Mass Incarceration.
  • Imprisoning people for drug possession.
  • Rehabilitation versus Punishment.
  • Separation of Church and State.
  • Freedom of religious organizations to discriminate.
  • Police misconduct.
  • Protecting the most vulnerable.
  • Office transparency.
  • Regulating utility companies like APS.
  • Fees for going to trial.
  • The cash bail system.

The candidates were unanimous on their views on the need to reform all these areas. They all chastised Adel and her predecessor Bill Montgomery for policies that emphasized profiteering and punishment instead of reform and rehabilitation.

They all vowed to:

  • Reduce the prison population, especially among those who have been jailed for low-level nonviolent drug offenses.
  • Promote programs that help rehabilitate prisoners and help them readjust to society.
  • Protect everyone from discrimination and abuse, including churches and utility companies.
  • Make it easier for the poor to obtain bail and avoid trial fees.
  • Respect the police and fight misconduct where it occurs.
  • Be transparent and create a new inclusive culture at the Maricopa County Attorney’s office.
  • Advocate crime prevention policies.

They also took time to tout their qualifications and, in some cases (especially Gunnigle and Knight), contrast their backgrounds and approaches.

Commenting on the forum, Maricopa County Democratic Chairperson Steven Slugocki wrote that:

“This forum showed the change we need in the County Attorney office. All five of our candidates were bold and courageous in their commitment to criminal justice reform. They are highly qualified and ready to lead on day one. We must end private prisons and the profit motive in the justice system. We are thrilled to support whoever will be our eventual nominee as they reform the justice system in our county”

Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country. The prison population has increased by 20 percent in the last twenty years. The Hispanic Jail population is the highest in the country. The cash bail system inhibits the poor from getting out of jail.

The system, as it is currently designed, is not working.

Arizona can have a criminal justice system that both punishes the most heinous criminals and provides a path to rejoin society and become a productive citizen.

The system also needs to increase funding for crime prevention programs like greater after school opportunities or community policing.

It does not have to be the privatization and punishment only approach of the current and prior occupants of the Maricopa County Attorney Office.

Voters should consider what the Democratic Candidates for Maricopa County Attorney have to offer before voting in August and November 2020.

To watch the forum, please click on the link here.

For more information on the candidates, please click on their websites below.

Julie Gunnigle

Tamika Wooten

Will Knight

Robert McWhirter

Ryan Tait