Overstuffed prisons, rising costs, and too little opportunity are just a few of the many issues plaguing our criminal justice system. However, in the midst of these challenges, there are people like Joe Watson, the Empathy Network Leader for Dream.Org in Arizona, who are leading the charge for change.
Joe Watson was a respected, award-winning journalist before multiple felony convictions derailed his career in 2007. Though he supported criminal justice reform before his incarceration, it wasn't until Joe was sentenced to 12 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections that he fully understood how broken the system truly is. Arizona has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the world, which has harmed hundreds of thousands of families across the state, exacerbating economic injustice in communities of color.
Advocating for Change
After Joe was released to community supervision in 2017, he immediately began working to change the narrative around people in prison and end mass incarceration. He uses creative writing, community building, and advocacy to advance his goals of reducing the size of law enforcement agencies across the state, including its Department of Corrections, and reallocating resources toward education, healthcare, housing, and community-based alternatives to incarceration.
In 2021, Joe's hard work and dedication to criminal justice reform paid off when newly-elected Pima County Attorney, Laura Conover, appointed Joe to be her Director of Communications, making him the only law enforcement agency spokesperson in the country with a felony conviction history.
The Home Arrest with Electronic Monitoring Bill
Joe is currently helping the Dream.Org team to pass the Home Arrest and Electronic Monitoring Bill in Arizona, SB1304. The legislation will reunite incarcerated people in Arizona convicted of low-level offenses with their families so they can rejoin the workforce and support their loved ones. The bill allows qualifying individuals to serve the remainder of their sentence at home with their family, where they can go to work and contribute positively to society. This not only sets people up for success when they finish serving their time, but it can also save the state millions of dollars.
The Benefits of Alternative Sentencing
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that alternatives to incarceration can be effective. Over 52,000 people nationwide were placed in home detention with successful results, highlighting the potential of alternative sentencing options. By passing the Home Arrest with Electronic Monitoring Bill, Arizona can join the growing number of states that are moving away from mass incarceration and towards alternatives that prioritize public safety and successful reentry.
Qualifications for Home Arrest with Electronic Monitoring
The Home Arrest Program with Electronic Monitoring is available for people who have served at least one year of their sentence and meet certain criteria. To qualify, the applicant must have been convicted of a less severe felony and not have a history of violent behavior in prison. They also need to be within 18 months of their release and never participated in the program before.
However, the program is not available for those with previous convictions for dangerous crimes against children or sex offenses, or those with a record of serious or violent felonies. The main purpose of this program is to make sure that people who are not a danger to society can complete their sentences at home with electronic monitoring instead of being kept in prison.
Joe's Personal Connection
As a formerly incarcerated father, Joe personally knows the harm done to kids of parents in prison. Overstuffed prisons are costing our communities too much. It's time for alternatives that prioritize public safety and successful reentry. By passing the Home Arrest with Electronic Monitoring Bill, Arizona can create a more just and equitable criminal justice system that benefits families and communities
A Vision for the Future
Joe's work with Dream.Org and as the Director of Communications for the Pima County Attorney's Office, and now owner of his own strategic communications agency, is just the beginning. He envisions a future where people are not punished indefinitely for their past mistakes but are given the opportunity to learn from them and become productive members of society. He believes in reducing the size of law enforcement agencies and reallocating resources towards education, healthcare, and community-based alternatives to incarceration.
Joe's story is a testament to the power of change and the need for criminal justice reform. His advocacy for alternative sentencing and community-based programs has inspired countless individuals to join the fight for a more just and equitable criminal justice system. Joe's leadership and dedication to criminal justice reform in Arizona and beyond serve as an inspiration to all those fighting for change.
If you are inspired by Joe's story and want to support criminal justice reform efforts in Arizona, there are several things you can do. Attend local community meetings and advocate for alternative sentencing and community-based programs. Donate to organizations like Dream.Org that are working to create a more just and equitable criminal justice system.
Joe Watson's story is a powerful reminder that anyone can become a catalyst for change. His personal experience with the criminal justice system has inspired him to advocate for alternative sentencing and community-based programs that prioritize public safety and successful reentry. By passing the Home Arrest with Electronic Monitoring Bill, Arizona can take a significant step towards a more just and equitable criminal justice system. Join the fight for criminal justice reform and help create a better future for all.