TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - County leaders are working on a plan to reduce the population at the Pima County jail without compromising public safety and part of that includes talking to former inmates.
Pima County received a $150,000 grant earlier this year to address overcrowding and other issues within the criminal justice system, after the county was chosen by the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to participate in the Safety and Justice Challenge competition. Pima County was chosen out of nearly 200 applicants for the first round of the competition.
The county is forming a focus group next year and is looking for anyone who spent one or more nights in the Pima County Jail in the last five years to offer opinions on the criminal justice system.
The Pima County Jail currently has nearly 2,000 inmates and if the county did nothing, that number would skyrocket.
"We would just keep arresting people and keep putting them in jail and they would stay in jail longer because the system would be overwhelmed," said Chief India Davis with the Pima County Sheriff's Department Corrections.
If the population continued to increase at the jail, county leaders say eventually they'd have to build an expansion to the mission facility at the taxpayers expense. Using the grant money, the county is looking for ways to safely reduce the jail population either by keeping people from even entering the criminal justice system or finding alternatives for inmates who are not a risk to the community.
Part of that is looking at who is in jail. According to Davis, between 50 and 70 percent of the jail's population is considered mentally ill.
"If they have behavioral health needs and substance abuse problems, treating those problems to keep them from committing the crimes and the never ending cycle of recidivism and getting them back into the jail," said Davis.
She also says that putting a person in jail and just expecting them to get better will never work.
"So if we do the treatment and the counseling combined with some of these other efforts then maybe you'll have a healthier community and people wont need to rotate back in," she said.
Other efforts include expanding the electronic monitoring program to include more inmates. Right now the program has about 14 people. County leaders are also looking at extending court hours or offering court options on the weekend to prevent people from failing to appear at court.
The county is applying for the second round of the Safety and Justice Challenge Competition where it could receive anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million to implement the plan leaders have been working on.
If you're interested in joining the focus group, send your contact information to Regina Kelly by emailing Regina.Kelly@pima.gov