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Pima County tracking results of jail population reduction efforts

Pima County Jail
Posted at 10:10 PM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-25 01:19:44-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Build a new jail, or look into ways to lower the number of current inmates. Those were the options for Pima County back in 2014 when the jail was near capacity of 2,100 inmates.

Since then, the county has received millions of dollars in grants to reduce the jail population.

"If they have a substance abuse problem or a serious mental illness, jail is not always the best place for that person," Wendy Petersen said.

Petersen is on the Jail Population Review Committee. The group is made up of members from the county's criminal justice agencies. They identify people in the jail who could be safely released -- nonviolent, low-grade misdemeanor offenders.

"We had a goal to reduce our jail population to about the 1,700 number," Petersen said.

Let's look at the average daily population at the jail:

Pima County's Fiscal Year 18-19 adopted budget shows the Sheriff's Department planned for 1,938 inmates this fiscal year. The number was at 1,715 as of April 19.

The Jail Population Review Committee says since the effort launched last month, 63 inmates have been released -- saving the county more than $187,000.

"So it's good, and it's a beneficial thing for us as taxpayers," Petersen said. "But it's been happening all along, it's just a matter of keeping track of it."

The county bases the savings off of the daily jail bed rate.

It's becoming increasingly costly to house an inmate.

Over the past five years, the daily bed rate has increased 25 percent -- from $80 to just under $100.

Petersen says the committee is confident they can keep the jail population at lower levels and increase savings.

"It's a conscious decision to track how we're making these decisions, which of these decisions work for which type of population." Petersen said.

The committee says they have efforts in place to track the detainees who are released.

KGUN9 will continue to look into more about this criminal justice reform program.