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County works to reduce jail population

Posted at 10:22 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-03 01:34:48-04

County leaders held a public meeting Thursday to talk about a grant to reduce jail populations. 

In April the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded Pima County with $1.5 million over two years. County leaders say the goals is to reduce the jail population by 18% while addressing issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Community leaders met the with public at the YWCA at 525 N. Bonita Avenue.

According to county statistics, in 2014 the Pima County jail's average population was 2,136 inmates. Jail costs are about $66 million a year. On average than 80% of the inmates are in pretrial status, and most of them were behind bars for failures to appear in court related to misdemeanor charges. 

A number of strategies to reduce the jail population include:

- implementing treatment alternatives and pretrial screenings, like substance abuse and mental health screenings before the initial court appearance. 

- preventing failure to appear warrants, like establishing weekend warrant resolution days. 

- post conviction alternatives to jail, like expanding home detention with electronic monitoring for sentenced inmates. 

A number of agencies are working together with this initiative including the Tucson Police Department, city courts, and public defenders. Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos says the goal is to keep low-level offenders out of jail. Nanos believes we need to do more to keep those offenders, like shoplifters or those impacted by mental illness, out of jail. 

"Jail is not a good place, it's a bad place," Nanos said. "When we bring people in there they rarely get better. We need to get them out of there to get them better."

The Pima County Safety and Justice Challenge is putting together a group that will help adjust jail strategies. The Safety & Justice Community Collaborative will consist of 15 - 25 former inmates, family members, and other community leaders. 
On June 11 the county will hold a Warrant Resolution Court day. 
Here's where you can get information on how to apply for the community group and other events.