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  • Q & A with Judge Pyle

    On Sept. 29, Senior Judge Andre Davis of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals visited Tucson in conjunction with the $150,000 Safety & Justice Challenge grant awarded to Pima County in May by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    He spoke on “Racial and Ethnic Equality in the Criminal Justice System," during a public forum. It was followed by a discussion of the Safety & Justice Challenge by a panel of local criminal justice representatives.

    The panel included U.S. Judge Pyle 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.

    Note: Some questions have been edited for brevity's sake.

    Judge Pyle:  At this point in the process can you identify some of the opportunities to reduce the jail population in Pima County?

    Domingo Corona: What I can speak to specifically is from the pretrial justice area and that’s performance at the front end. Judge Davis talked about taking a look at our bail system and trying to work in better screening practices and tools, you know, making sure we’re analyzing properly who’s in our jail. Why they’re there and looking at the data we’ve collected to really ramp up what we do in the pretrial population so we are, in fact, offering opportunities for alternatives to incarceration to judges who make decisions at the front end.

    Judge Pyle: India, would you like to add anything?

    India Davis: So we have taken a look at, preliminarily, at the data to see who’s in jail and how long they’re spending in jail. One of the areas is definitely the bail system. To look and see who’s being held and who’s being released at the initial appearance. We’ve started tracking more closely what’s happening and when, so that we can see what that population is actually doing at the pretrial, at the front end. But we’ve also had some preliminary discussions looking into some of the causal factors for failures to appear. Our initial brush of the data is that we have a high number of people who are being incarcerated for failing to appear on other charges and it’s not just one failure to appear, but it’s multiple failure to appears. And not just one court, but failure to appear in multi-jurisdictional courts, South Tucson, Tucson, Justice Court, Superior Court and that becomes difficult for the population to actually get to court. A lot of these people have transportation issues. They live in areas where they can’t easily get to the court, there’s multiple court hearings. So, we’re looking at moving up possible disposition times and having more of a mobile court idea. So that’s just kind of a sneak peek of what we’re looking at. And also just really talking about diversion, in different ways. Enhancing diversion from prosecution and also diversion from the pretrial end. Looking at home detention, electronic monitoring as an option to incarceration even with the substance abuse people and DUIs. We now have an ordinance that will allow us to monitor people like that in home detention and probably that’s better for the community as well because they’re going to be able to keep their jobs, they’re going to be able to keep supporting their families and still be held accountable through GPS and through the sober link monitoring. So we’ve looked at all different avenues and different ideas to really kind of revamping the entire jail program system. We’ve had some good luck with CPSA and now moving forward with Cenpatico, now Arizona Complete Health, in a couple of days and all of the community providers -- lot of you guys I see in here -- we’re hoping to provide some more evidence-based programming and counseling, that is actually acceptable to the community and to the courts, as actually satisfying some of the things they are court ordered, mandated to do. So it’s nice to be able to go to AA when you’re in jail, but it’s much better to be getting the individualized counseling and treatment that people need. So that’s just a complete revamp of the system and I’m working in partnership with our community providers to make that happen inside the jail.

     Judge Pyle: John, is one of the strategies for lowering that jail population maybe finding some people who shouldn’t be booked at all?
    Assistant Tucson Police Department Chief John Leavitt: Well, certainly that’s been something we’ve discussed. We took a look at the people we bring to jail and the vast majority of the people we bring to jail are going there for warrants. If you go out and commit a shoplifting or you do a trespass or you do a variety of misdemeanors, you’ll never see a day in jail for that. If you go to court and follow all the rules, you’ll get a fine and get put on unsupervised probation, whatever it is. But, if you miss an appointment with a judge, you’re going to jail and I don’t care what it’s for, if it’s for driving on a suspended license, if it’s for any offense. Somehow, our system has become more about making an appointment with a judge than it is about what you did originally. You look at the number of people that end up in jail. It’s about not making that appointment. So we’ve talked about ‘How do you help people make that appointment?’ The county has a robo call system that works well enough where they have half the failure to appear rate on criminal misdemeanor than the city does. Half the failure to appear rate. Now I’m not saying that’s the only reason. Maybe they arrest a better quality of person than we do, but we are twice as likely not to appear for criminal arraignments and that’s incredible. The cost to that is not just potentially more than a million dollars -- depending on how many people you can actually encourage to go with a phone call -- the cost is also they lose their jobs because they get booked, and -- they are not great jobs to start with, it’s hard to find another one -- what does that do but create more idle time for people who aren’t good at managing their idle time in first place. And so they miss an appointment, because they lose their job, just think about the vicious circle. For at least 10 and 12 years, our department has worked with or tried to work with the courts to find a different way to deal with these warrants and the judges are adamant, we’re going to serve them, we’re going to serve every one.  We don’t have discretion. We’ve revisited that recently and we didn’t get where we’d hoped to go. But, we’re been working with Domino (Pima County Pretrial Services Director Domingo Corona) and it would be really, really beneficial if we could call somebody that has release authority on these warrants and get a new court date for the person who missed their court appearance. If we could do that we would seriously decrease the number of people we take to jail and it’s not just about that. That frees us up with time so we could go out and solve other community problems. This warrant trap we’re in is something that needs to be addressed. We think there are ways that won’t cost much money and probably some of them probably no money.  

    Judge Pyle: Lori (Lori Lefferts, Pima County Public Defense Services Director) one of the keys to this whole concept, as Judge Davis called, it this collaboration…What can you tell us about the collaboration and how the defense bar works into this initiative.

    Lori Lefferts: Well, the defense bar is thrilled about this initiative. Obviously we’ve been arguing for reduced incarceration rates in jail population on a case-by-case basis for years so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity, this public forum today and to be involved in this collaboration with others in the community. We couldn’t be happier that we’re having this dialogue and that we’re getting results. I think Pima County is unique. When I talk to my counterparts in other jurisdictions I learn this is very unique for us to be able to sit, you know, probation is sitting next to high-ranking Tucson Police officer. We agree on a lot of things. The county attorney’s office, Amelia, (Amelia Craig Cramer, Chief Deputy Pima County Attorney) and I work very well, collaborating on issues and so I really do think we have a unique community in Pima County. Just like Judge Davis is very optimistic about the future, we are very optimistic about this as well. I do think we have a long way to go. I do think there are strong arguments for reducing substantially the prison population, but also the jail population so I see this as kind of the beginning and I hope that we can take that further, that we can talk about the number of defendants going to the state prison unnecessarily. So anyways, I just want to applaud Pima County and the stake holders. India (India Davis, Pima County Corrections Chief) does a fabulous job working with us. Nowhere else in the country, that I know of, can a public defender pick up the phone and talk and get results and cooperation from the commander of the jail and so I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be a part of this….

    Judge Pyle asks Chief Sanders about transportation issues and their role in jail overcrowding.

    Chief Adult Probation Officer David Sanders: Somebody who doesn’t have a license or somebody who owes fines and fees will have their license suspended. Someone with a license suspended has a transportation problem. Somebody with a transportation problem has difficulty find a job or getting to work. They are constantly concerned or looking over their shoulder because they have warrant issues. You might wonder why a probation person is up here at all, because as you know, parole is after prison and probation is instead of prison or instead of jail. Having said that though, about 25 percent of the jail population is on probation. They are there either pending probation revocation or they’ve been revoked to a jail sentence or they are in jail as a condition of probation. So that’s about 25 percent of the jail population. The challenge for us, according to the MacArthur Foundation, is not to do more of the good things that we’re doing, but to think outside the box and do things that are evidence-based, that are based on science and research. Try something new. So on the topic of warrants, we’re thinking about an amnesty. We’ve got 800 people, who when they left jail, they went to heroin hotel instead of the probation department and we haven’t seen them since. What if we offered them amnesty, no jail, but bring them back into the mainstream of probation? Sure, they’d have to stop using heroin, but maybe they’re ready to. But if you self-surrender on a warrant, and I’m not saying you can’t do this now, don’t get me wrong, but if we moved in that direction and allowed people to self-surrender on their warrants with a guarantee that they’d be restored to probation instead of revoked to prison or jail, that would be a safer strategy for this community. Think about your own neighborhood. Would you rather be living next door to somebody who had absconded from probation, was using drugs and was not being supervised and probably burglarizing your home or would you have them in the mainstream of the criminal justice system, being supervised, being programmed, being treated, and getting better? So we’re trying to think of things we haven’t tried before that we think will work. Perhaps stationing a probation officer in the jail to help bridge that transition from incarceration to supervision instead of making it so abrupt, just letting them out and hoping they go to the probation office instead of the heroin hotel.

    Judge Pyle asks about the opportunities for developing more and better relationships with community providers, such as Cenpatico, now Arizona Complete Health, .

    Amelia Craig Cramer: That’s a very good question and as Judge Davis talked about and the sheriff talked about, we have a major problem with folks who are mentally ill and abusers of substances and who are addicted. That’s a lot of our jail population. So if we’re looking to protect safety and do justice and reduce the jail population at the same time, one of the things we’re looking at is to enhance some of the programs we already have. You’ve heard good things about my boss, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, who was involved in the original drug court Judge Davis was able to observe yesterday, who developed the drug treatment alternative program in the Superior Court for people who committed felonies. (How about) backing up that success to the misdemeanor courts, and not just the Pima County Justice Court, Tucson City Court, but the other municipal courts as well? To connect defendants up with services as Chief Sanders and others have said so that while they are pretrial they can obtain services and for those who are able to comply with the conditions of release pretrial maybe they can have their cases dismissed on diversion and we can expand the diversion programs that we have. Our county attorney Barbara LaWall has post-charge, pretrial diversion that dismisses charges against a large number of drug possession offenders who are first and second time offenders, but what about the really addicted offenders who are third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seven time offenders? They’re having their cases now prosecuted in misdemeanor court. So if we can give them another diversion option under supervision with regular appearances in court with connection to those service providers.   You mentioned the original Regional Behavioral Health Authority, the city has a wonderful mental health court run by Judge (Susan) Shetter, where there’s literally a desk for a representative of the Regional Health Behavioral Authority in the courtroom and there’s another desk for three different community service providers who provide mental health services along with the prosecutor and the defense attorney. So the judge can connect the defendant up immediately with services while he’s in that courtroom and if they’re in compliance and they come back every couple of weeks, they drug test clean, they’re going to the services, they’re getting resources, job training, job placement, transportation, housing, counseling, family counseling, they’re with their kids, we reduce the population in the emergency room, we reduce the number of kids who are in foster care because their parents are outside the jail, we reduce recidivism the way we’ve been able to in Superior Court, and these folks never make it to Superior Court because they get clean and sober, they get their mental health issues addressed and they’re on medication and counseling before they ever continue that repetition to get to felonies. So our office is very supportive and Barbara’s been a proponent of appropriate diversion and at the same time, on that safety component, when we look at pretrial assessment, making sure that violent and dangerous individuals are behind bars where they need to be to protect the community. Poor people and people of color who can’t make bail who are mentally ill, homeless, drug addicted, if they have some other mechanism by which they can be brought to court rather than failing to appear over and over again. So we’re happy to be a part of this collaboration and we see a lot of opportunity.

    Judge Pyle asks India Davis for her opinion.

    India Davis: Arizona Complete Health is taking over as the new Regional Health Behavioral Authority as of Oct. 1. They’ve already set up a jail liaison and several teams to work throughout the jail, working with the provider community to ensure that the justice population and inmate populations see a very seamless transition between CPSA and Arizona Complete Health. All their providers are still going to be the same, so their case managers aren’t changing. So just a lot of continuity going on and a lot of collaboration that’s going on between Arizona Complete Health, the jail and the law enforcement community, and that has been going on for about the last three or four months. We expect a full and seamless transition. I’m sure things are going to go very well and Arizona Complete Healthalready has a team in place to work with our medical providers, ccs, at the jail so that once a person is identified inside the jail, the jail’s medical provider is actually the medical and mental health provider. But, we know that there are members of the community provider network that have more information out there on these clients and these individuals and it’s just critical that we share the information that we have on individuals and that we make sure they’re as safe as possible while they’re in this crisis in the jail. I think everything is going to go very well, fingers crossed, but I think we’re going to have a very good collaboration with Arizona Complete Health and continued collaboration with all the providers.

    Judge Pyle then turns to Chief Leavitt:

    John Leavitt: Arizona Complete Health ’s part of it, but I think the Pima County Sheriff, Chris Nano, started the MHST (Mental Health Investigative Support Team) program a couple of years ago, that we adopted and together I can say that we’re diverting huge numbers of people who normally would’ve gone to the jail to different mental health services. It’s really a pro-active effort and that success is cultural and it’s certainly permeated our culture at this point. Just last Thursday coming back from a meeting, there’s a guy trying to car-jack people at the Y where they’re taking their kids in and out of the Y. Under the old model, he would’ve gone to jail for sure, but he was in a mental health crisis, he was delusional, absolutely delusional, thought someone was trying to cut his head off. As we all know, I’m looking around the room, you’ve all been there, you know what I’m talking about, he was not a candidate for going to the jail or criminal prosecution and being able to divert him initially to the appropriate mental health service is a cultural issue that we’ve adopted. The Sheriff blazed the trail, but everyone else in Southern Arizona is on that path now and I think that it’s going to make a huge difference in the long run.

    Judge Pyle: How do we educate the community that less incarceration doesn’t mean less public safety?

    Lori Lefferts: The motto in Arizona for years has been ‘tough on crime’ and I think the new motto should be ‘smart on crime’ and the public likes sound bites. But I think it comes from leadership. I probably, as the former public defender, now the Director of Public Defense Services, am probably not the best spokesperson for a change in the approach because I’m aware that people think we’re soft if we release people early. But research suggests and, we know this, that the longer we incarcerate somebody, it actually creates more crime. So I think it’s a matter of education. I think it’s a matter of leadership taking a role in educating the public in any way that we can in short snippets. And just a quick fact. Someone who goes into jail after a certain number of days, a short amount of time, I think three or four days, increases the risk to re-offend substantially. So if you bring somebody to the jail and get them out pretty quickly and put them back into the community and home with their family and back to work, we can have a better outcome than if we house them even for a short period of time in jail. Evidence-based practices, results from years and years of research teach us that our approach is counter-productive. I really think it’s a matter of education and I think Pima County is doing a good job of leading the way in Arizona. Arizona has, you probably already know this, we rank 7th in the country for our rate of incarceration. That’s nothing to brag about and that’s incarceration a country that leads the world in incarceration. So I think we have more incarcerated in Arizona than in most countries in the world even  western countries so we need to make some substantial changes in Arizona and we need to drop down off that top 10 list. I think that comes from the top, people that are in a position to make decisions on who goes to prison and educate the public about the fact that we can actually reduce crime by reducing incarceration.

    Judge Pyle mentions that Native American incarceration numbers are troubling.

    John Leavitt: Absolutely. We’ve been working very closely with the data related to disparities in race and the things we’ve been doing in the Tucson Police Department since 1998. Interestingly enough throughout this process we sliced the data a little differently because we were looking to answer different questions for the MacArthur grant, but there’s no question that it’s revealed that to us that’s something we really need to pay attention to. There’s not a loud advocacy group for Native Americans and how we interact with Native Americans and when I say that, I look at what we’re arresting them for and the answer is warrants. They miss appointments at seven times the rate of other groups within our population so again this is a tough nut to crack. And talking with people who work for TO Police Department and talking to tribal members that I know, there is definitely a problem with the way we’re delivering service to that part of our population from their perspective. So we have a system and we’re trying to press everybody into the same system and get them to respect the law and respect the judge, but the truth is these folks live in a different nation, they come into our community, many of them live in the community, and there’s a different way we can deliver services, particularly when it comes to initial arraignments that will prevent them from spending… the vast majority of the time I guarantee  these people are spending in jail is because of missed appointments, not because of  getting new offenses. So that’s something we’ve discovered, that we’re really going to look into and pay very close attention to. We talked very briefly, maybe we send an Uber out and pick them up bring them in or maybe one day a week we have initials out on the reservation at several locations or maybe with the tribal courts we allow initials to happen in our court through some video links, maybe we don’t have a 2 o’clock arraignment time for criminal, we have eight to five arraignment times so people can come in. There’s some real problems with how you set that up. I get that it’s not easy, but we’d already be doing it. We’re trying to press everybody’s and everyone’s culture into one approach that may not be working especially if you have a disparate rate of seven times more likely for a native American to not appear for court. That’s something we have to pay attention to.

    Judge Pyle asks several for their closing thoughts.

    Domingo Corona: To tailor on to what John Leavitt said, as well Amelia and Lori, what we’re looking at is a systemic approach as to how to address some of the issues. For example, John’s talking about failure to appear. When we talk about performance outcomes, for example releasing more people into the community, what the real risks are, the majority of people who fail during the pretrial period is due to a failure to appear. That’s going to be your highest type of failure and that’s going to be at the felony level and especially seen at the misdemeanor level and how to address those underlying issues, whether it be confusion..You know there’s a number of lower jurisdictional courts in Pima County and there’s a Superior Court in Pima County, and to have three or four court dates across the county is very confusing to many people. It would be confusing to me. And to develop systems to address those type of contributors to arrest for failure that’s going to be very important. The other end is to address the substance abuse issues that are out there. That’s another underlying cause for people getting into the system, or it can be. So I think what we’ve all been doing…. first of all this is a very advanced system in Pima County and also I should say it’s very good for me and my staff to have Pretrial at the table with the people that are here. This doesn’t happen really not just here, but nationally, so I think that since we have a handle on the pretrial population we’re aware we do a lot of data pulls. We’re aware of what’s coming in the front door of the jail. We’re aware of the struggles and failures in the jail if people get released. I think having the communication and to really put our heads together and try to come up with solutions to these problems that have existed for decades I think is gonna be the biggest benefit of this collaboration and I’m personally looking forward to see how it ends.

    India Davis: So at the jail the average length of stay for a misdemeanor is between three and seven days and I know it doesn’t seem like much, but that’s pretty impactful on a person’s life and you could lose your job in seven days and you could not be able to pay your bills after seven days. And then the average length of stay for felony offenses is between 10 and 15 and so the impact is even greater. One of the things that this collaboration has allowed is just for each of us to see the issue from other people’s perspective and I think Judge Davis mentioned it and touched on it a little bit before, but I think the key to our success is the community, the involvement and the informing of the victims and the community and really involving them in a solution-driven model that makes it OK for the prosecutor not to prosecute people to the fullest because the victim is getting some kind of restitution or some kind of reparation there. So the restorative justice model has been applied to the juvenile court for years and years, but it really hasn’t been applied successfully in the U.S. to the adult population because there’s a belief out there that the people in the community and the victims would not support it and I don’t agree. I don’t believe that is the case. I think there are victims out there that really sometimes just want to hear from the person who harmed them that they’re sorry and that may be enough and maybe they don’t need to go to prison for three to five years and maybe they can repair these relationships with the victims in other ways and really bring the public into the decisions that are being made when it comes to these types of offenders, especially when there are victims involved. And then one of the other ideas that’s kind of been thrown around the table is in Pima County, when we’re looking at the data, we really saw that after conviction there’s really only three sentencing options when it comes to a guilty plea and so that’s either probation, probation and jail or prison. And so we’d like to see, and hopefully we’ll get the support of the community, we’d like to see more a day center or a treatment option, a sentenced option where the judge would tell somebody ‘You have five days of sentencing to a day center and you need to go and get treatment and counseling for five days and that is your sentence.’ There’s no incarceration tail, there’s no probation tail, and just so having really the other opportunities out there for people who are first time offenders, low level offenders and giving people a real chance to make the chances they need at time of their live where it’s appropriate because we don’t know what’s going on in the rest of their lives. So I think it’s just been really good to hear the perspective of everybody at the table. We’ve got a lot of good ideas out there and hopefully MacArthur will see our proposal and think that it is worthy and innovative and something that they’d like to fund and that this community could benefit from.

    John Leavitt: I’ll go back to what the Judge (Judge Davis) said earlier – on demand drug treatment, not just the drugs you’re thinking of, but alcohol as well. The thousands of domestic violence calls that I’ve been to in the course of my 30 years and that all police officers go to, I can think of one that didn’t have alcohol involved.  Honestly, just one and so when you look at the impact drugs and alcohol have on the community and how do you get services? Well, you get arrested that’s how you get services. So maybe we can skip the arrest part and make those services available. We’ve talked about what we call pocket drugs. We stop those people from missing that appointment again -- I don’t mean to keep beating that to death but – we talk to them, we find the warrant, arrest them for the warrant, we find pocket drugs in their pocket. That’s small amounts of cocaine or methamphetamine or marijuana or whatever it is, those are felonies, marijuana’s not, but the others are felonies and so we end up booking you for that and then you end up in jail for three or four, five, 10, 15 days and on this pocket drug you have here, now you’ve lost your job and if you had health insurance you don’t now and now you go out and you’ve got to try find drug treatment. Well that’s not going to happen so the point would be maybe, the innovative approach is if you have these pocket drugs and -- I don’t believe in small sales, I heard the Judge (Judge Davis) say that, I think that was a reach -- if you have possession, you have a small amounts, in these cases of pocket drugs, maybe instead of taking them to jail we take them to a place and we long form it. We send them through and say ‘You’ve got 15 days to enroll in treatment. If you enroll in treatment in 15 days the county attorney won’t prosecute you for this or whatever or something like that.’ Find an approach that recognizes treatment first for these folks that have addiction problems. Because you’re right, right now without on demand drug treatment almost everything else we do is just spinning our wheels…

    Lori Lefferts: I couldn’t say it any better. I’m really thrilled to hear that come from corrections and from law enforcement that we do not need to lock people up for drug use and drug addiction, that we need treatment. I think we need to recognize that incarceration is not the answer to our crime problem, in fact I think it adds to it. Some people do need to be incarcerated, but we need to come up with tools to discern who needs to be incarcerated and who does not need to. I think when we get to that point, we’ll realize probably 80 percent of the people that are incarcerated don’t need to be there and I look forward to that day.

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