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  • Community Collaborative members reflect on first year

    A year ago this past September, Pima County assembled the Safety and Justice Challenge Community Collaborative to engage with justice system stakeholders across a broad base to support efforts to safely lower the jail population.

    As Co-Chairs of the Community Collaborative, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on our work and look at the challenges… and opportunities… ahead.
    To begin with, the 33-member Community Collaborative engages with a wide-range of justice system stakeholders from both public agencies and the community, including formerly incarcerated men and women and victim advocates.  For many on the Collaborative, this is the first time public members are sitting at the table with judges, law enforcement, and prosecutors.  

    With so many voices and personal priorities, you might think that it would be a challenge for us to find common ground.  It hasn’t been.  Our goal to help the County -- and ultimately the community – make sure our friends, our family members, our loved ones are not unnecessarily and unfairly being held in jail is what drives our motivation to work together in a way that hasn’t been done before.   We want our effort to be compassionate. We want all of us to be safe.   So we’re collectively rethinking the use of jails and examining the true costs of incarceration.

    Over this year, we have found we enjoy working together and we are both optimistic about the future of the Collaborative. It is a tall task, but we honestly believe it is possible to change how we, as a community, view justice. That starts by educating the public and justice system stakeholders about the barriers faced by people with convictions. 

    We know our efforts may run counter to the regressive criminal justice philosophy that seems to be on the rise at the federal level right now. We know from history that “lock ‘em up” approach will fail as it always has before.

    Meanwhile, here in Pima County we will remain committed to finding creative, common-sense solutions that leave open the possibility that everyone can be redeemed while also saving public tax dollars. It should be a bipartisan issue. 

    Pima County may be the perfect place to test these theories. It’s an unpretentious place where people care about showing up and doing the work. 

    Manny Mejias is a reentry coordinator for Pima Prevention Partnership.  He spent 20 years in prison and knows first hand what it’s like after someone is released from incarceration with few real options for success.  Basically, he says he was limited to food service and janitorial positions, with collecting recycling as a side hustle.

    Karla Avalos is a Senior Policy Advisor for City of Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.   She knows the effects incarceration has on family and children and those impacted on the outside. She wants her work to help families who are often silent and invisible.
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