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  • Discussions revolve around addressing inequities

    As the deadline for a new Safety and Justice Challenge grant approaches, County and criminal justice system leaders have been meeting frequently to pore over the data to determine who is in the Pima County Adult Detention Center and how they can best address the issues of inequality and overcrowding.

    The Safety and Justice Challenge is a major new initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation aimed at reducing over-incarceration by changing the way America uses its jails.
    During a week-long series of meetings in October, committee members learned the people who stay in jail the longest appear to fall into a handful of categories:

    • Those who fail to appear for court appearances
    • Those accused of and awaiting trial for lower level felonies, such as drug possession, theft, aggravated assault, burglary
    • Those accused of and awaiting trial for misdemeanors, such as domestic violence, driving under the influence, shoplifting, criminal damage, trespassing
    The committee concluded people often fail to appear in court because they have cognitive issues caused by mental health problems and substance abuse. Other times they are scared of a criminal justice system they don’t understand, they have transportation issues or they can’t get to court during regular court hours. Some people have such chaotic lives a court hearing isn’t at the top of their priority list and still others are just apathetic.

    The committee also offered the following explanations for over-crowded jails:
    • Lack of diversion programs
    • Cognitive issues caused by mental health problems, substance abuse
    • Over-criminalization
    • Excessive bond amounts
    • Fear of community backlash/liability issues
    • Slow case processing
    • Lack of a citation and release option
    The committee spent considerable time discussing potential ways to ease jail overcrowding.
    Potential solutions include:
    • Extending court hours and locations
    • Sending text reminders about court dates
    • Creating a Restorative Justice Center where defendants can take care of their criminal matters, meet with treatment providers, obtain job skills, etc.
    • Give law enforcement officers more discretion in the field as to arrests
    • Change the bail process
    • Expedite case processing
    • Create diversion programs

    Over the coming weeks, committee members will be working to select the most realistic strategies and devising specific ways to implement them. Their ideas will then be submitted to the MacArthur Foundation on Jan. 6 in the hopes the County will be awarded a second round of funding.

    Beginning in 2016, as many as 10 selected sites could receive two years of grant funding to implement their plan. The County could receive between $500,000 and $2 million per year if selected.

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    Safety + Justice Challenge Grant

    Wendy Petersen
    Assistant County Administrator
    (520) 724-8849

    Kate Vesely
    Director of Justice Reform Initiatives
    (520) 724-3062

    32 N. Stone Ave.
    3rd Floor
    Tucson, AZ 85701

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