Maricopa County’s top prosecutor focused on transparency, treatment

Since being appointed as Maricopa County Attorney 10 months ago, Allister Adel has brought a whirlwind of changes to the office to increase transparency, emphasize treatment over punishment, and reach out to groups like the business community, all with the economy in mind.  

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel

“If we have a safe community, we have a good economy,” said Adel, the first woman to hold the position since the first county attorney, Frank Lyman, took office in 1912 to tame the Old West. 

Adel spoke Tuesday during the kickoff of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s new Leadership Series. The virtual event was presented by the law firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie. 

She talked about the office’s many “firsts” including new prosecution integrity protocols, a new data dashboard for public viewing, expansion of treatment diversion programs, reduction of administrative red tape, and more.  

Handling high profile cases with ease  

Adel started her career as a prosecutor in the County Attorney’s office where she spent seven years before taking on administrative positions in state government. Her public service prepared her well for her new role in the spotlight.

Among the cases garnering national attention under her leadership was a break in a heart wrenching cold case last week. Almost two decades after 17-year-old Alissa Turney disappeared, Phoenix police arrested her stepfather, Michael Turney, for her murder. 

Earlier this year, Adel also fired famous prosecutor Juan Martinez, who spent his career putting some of the most notorious murderers behind bars. But decades of allegations of sexual harassment by employees in the office came to an end under her leadership.  

Behind the scenes, Adel has instituted a flurry of new programs including:

New felony diversion program provides alternative to prosecution

With an emphasis on “treatment first,” a new Felony Diversion Program has expanded options for people charged with crimes like drug offenses to receive treatment in place of prosecution.

With a focus on treatment versus incarceration, offenders can continue to work, care for their families and go to school. That takes some of the burden off taxpayers and the justice system, Adel said.

“When I took office October 3, we were really looking at treating the offender and not the offense, and by that I mean people who are committing crimes — whether it is organized retail theft, whether its drug possession — because they have underlying issues of mental health or addiction,” Adel said. 

In the midst of the pandemic, more than 1,300 individuals facing criminal prosecution have been referred to the program. This new program combines what was formerly known as the Drug Diversion Program and Felony Pre-Trial Intervention Program to offer a more “robust” treatment option that addresses underlying behaviors and attitudes that affect criminal behavior, Adel said.

Eliminated diversion case fees 

Prior to the pandemic, Adel directed staff to eliminate diversion case fees that ranged from $630 to $1,200. The fees acted as a deterrent to diversion treatment programs  because many defendants could not afford them, she said. 

Home detention now option for misdemeanor DUI 

In its quest to reduce over-incarceration, the office announced on Tuesday that, for the first time in the history of the county, when someone is convicted of misdemeanor DUI, home detention will now be a sentencing option for a portion of the offender’s mandatory jail sentence. Home detention reduces and helps avoid collateral consequences associated with incarceration, such as disruption in employment, schooling, and family stability, Adel said.

New data dashboard 

Last month, the office launched a new data dashboard on its website to provide more transparency and data tracking. The new dashboard at contains information about how cases are handled.

New prosecution policies and plea procedures 

With 90 percent of criminal charges ending in plea agreements, county prosecutors now have new policies to guide how to handle these cases, and for the first time in the history of the office, the new plea policies are posted online for the public.

New prosecution integrity program 

Adel announced the creation of a centralized process within the office to handle claims of actual innocence, potential inappropriate police conduct including alleged excessive use of force, and other claims of prosecutorial unfairness in handling cases. 

The new Prosecution Integrity Program works with defense organizations and prosecutors to review and address items of integrity and conduct.

Advisory Councils 

Adel also is reaching out to the community and businesses for input with two advisory councils, the Community Advisory Board and the Business Advisory Council.  

“Public safety is critical to ensuring a stable and growing economy for our community. Understanding the concerns of business leaders provides a perspective that is important to my decision-making process. Not only are businesses often victims of crime, they employ members of the community who may have interactions with our criminal justice system,” she said. 

Victoria Harker

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