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  • Pima County wins MacArthur Foundation Grant to reduce jail population

    May 27, 2015 | Read More News
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    Pima County JailPima County is one of 20 jurisdictions selected to receive a $150,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to create a more effective local justice system that improves public safety, lowers jail costs, and prevents crime by lowering the rate of recidivism.

    The grant, announced today, is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce use of incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Pima County will use this planning grant to craft a comprehensive, time-sensitive and measurable plan among key criminal justice partners to identify and address practices that result in jail overcrowding and over-representation of low-income, minority and mentally ill adults in the jail population.

    Pima County and the other 19 jurisdictions were chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states. The applicants needed to provide evidence of successful efforts and collaborations to reduce incarceration, as well as evidence of strategies to address recidivism, income and racial inequality, and return-to-community issues.

    The 20 jurisdictions selected will work with expert consultants to develop a plan tailored for their local justice system. In 2016, as many as 10 of these jurisdictions will receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 to $2 million annually over two years – to implement the plan they develop with the $150,000 planning grants awarded today.

    “This grant allows us to greatly expand Pima County’s current justice reform efforts,” said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “The County is committed to finding new ways to divert low-risk and first-time offenders from jail, so that they can be productive members of the community, and to providing evidence-based services to inmates that will improve their transition from jail to the community and reduce recidivism. We all know budgets are tight and these funds will let us really explore what is driving our jail population. That will help us identify best practices, address gaps in service and design plans to improve our approach to incarceration, which – in the end – saves the taxpayers money.”

    Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local jails. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have cumulative expenditures related to building and running them, according to the MacArthur Foundation.

    In Pima County, the 2,377-bed jail is frequently near capacity, and the County estimates that by the year 2020 the detainee population could reach nearly 2,800 without interventions to divert low-risk defendants, improve behavioral health services and reduce recidivism.

    Recent research from the Vera Institute of Justice shows that nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug or public order violations. Further, low-income individuals and communities of color disproportionately experience the negative consequences of incarceration.

    Pima County statistics mirror these data. According to a February 2015 Pima County Health Department report, 46 percent of adults booked into the local jail were eligible for Medicaid, which means they were living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Additionally, according to Pima County 2014 arrest data, 58 percent of those arrested and 59.1 percent of those booked into the jail were from minority populations.

    More importantly, according to Pima County Behavioral Health Administrator Danna Whiting, approximately half of the average daily population of the Pima County jail is diagnosed with a behavioral health issue, and nearly 10 percent is diagnosed with a Serious Mental Illness (SMI).

    “We’ve been able to greatly reduce the unnecessary incarceration by diverting individuals in behavioral health crisis to our Behavioral Health Pavilion and the Crisis Response Center and away from adult and juvenile detention, but there are still a disproportionate number of people with mental illness who end up in our jail,” Whiting said. “This planning grant will help us work on better management of the re-entry process so persons receive appropriate treatment and avoid re-arrest and re-incarceration.”

    The Safety and Justice Challenge competition supports jurisdictions across the country seeking to create more just and effective local justice systems that improve public safety, lower jail costs and yield better outcomes through things such as lower recidivism rates.

    “Nearly 200 diverse jurisdictions responded to our challenge, reflecting nationwide interest in reducing over-incarceration,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “Each of the sites selected has demonstrated the motivation, collaboration and commitment needed to make real change in their local justice systems. We hope their local efforts will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.”

    Information about the selected jurisdictions, as well as news, research and events related to the Safety and Justice Challenge can be found at www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.