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  • Judge Davis encouraged by Pima County's efforts

    Senior Judge Andre Davis of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has pretty much seen it all when it comes to the criminal justice system. He’s been a prosecutor, a juror and a judge and he’s sat in the courtroom as a crime witness, a victim representative and as a source of support for troubled relatives.

    In late September, Judge Davis came to Tucson to speak about “Racial and Ethnic Equality in the Criminal Justice System.”  The Judge’s visit was tied to Pima County’s participation in the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative to reduce use of incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. 

    There are more people in jail than there are in prison by far. National statistics show 62% of them have not been to trial yet and are presumed innocent, and many of them are accused of non-violent offenses, specifically drug offenses.

    The Judge congratulated Pima County officials on the work they’ve already done to lower the county’s incarceration rate, pointing to Juvenile Court’s Domestic Violence Alternative Center and the Sheriff’s Department’s Mental Health Investigative Support Team, which often takes mentally ill people to the Crisis Response Center in lieu of the jail.

    He attended a Drug Court session and was struck by the care and support each defendant received. He was also pleased to hear the County was on the verge of joining the “Ban the Box” initiative. As of Nov. 10, Pima County job applications no longer have a box where people with a criminal history must disclose as part of their initial application they’ve been convicted of a crime. (Criminal history will still be considered were appropriate because of the safety-sensitive nature of a job.)

    Today is “an incredible moment in time” because more and more people are coming to realize people with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues ought to receive help, not time behind bars, Judge Davis said.

    No one could have dreamed of the day when the President of the United States would visit a federal prison to speak with inmates or when the Pope would shake hands with convicted felons, Judge Davis said.

    Every day, people are coming to realize that the war on drugs isn’t working, nor are mandatory minimum prison sentences.

    “When you lock up criminals you lock up families, and when you lock up families you lock up communities and it becomes criminogenic,” Judge Davis said. “The impact mass incarceration has had on people of color and the indigent has just been devastating.”

    Judge Davis urged Pima County to continue looking at alternatives to incarceration and bail reform as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge.
    “I believe we can achieve both safety and justice by re-directing our thinking and our resources,” Judge Davis said.

    Following Judge Davis’ speech, a panel of criminal justice representatives engaged in a Question and Answer session. The panel included U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Pyle, Assistant Tucson Police Chief John Leavitt, Pima County Corrections Chief India Davis, Pima County Public Defense Services Director Lori Lefferts, Pima County Chief Adult Probation Officer David Sanders, Chief Deputy Pima County Attorney Amelia Craig Cramer and Pima County Pretrial Services Director Domingo Corona.

    The group agreed there are people who need to be incarcerated because they are dangerous and likely to re-offend. However, they also reiterated the vast majority of people in the jail are non-violent offenders who would be better served if they were diverted from the jail to community service providers.

    Many of those in jail are only there because they failed to appear in court on misdemeanor offenses or they failed to show up at the probation department upon their release from jail. Many of them don’t make their appointments because of cognitive issues resulting from addiction or mental illness.

    Others have transportation issues, lack child care or live chaotic lives and are just trying to survive day-to-day.

    Incarcerating them certainly doesn’t help these people, the group agreed.
    Davis noted the average length of stay for a misdemeanor is between three and seven days and the average length of stay for a felony offense is between 10 and 15 days.

    “I know it doesn’t seem like much, but that’s pretty impactful on a person’s life. You could lose your job in seven days and you could not be able to pay your bills after seven days,” Davis said, noting the impact just grows as their time in jail goes on. 

    Davis and the rest of the group expressed their gratitude to the MacArthur Foundation for a $150,000 grant the County received in May to participate in the Safety and Justice Challenge. They hope to receive additional funding in early 2016 in the form of another grant.

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