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  • Pima County receives $1.5 million grant to reduce jail population

    Apr 13, 2016 | Read More News
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    Jail interiorThe John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced April 13 the award of a $1.5 million grant to Pima County to implement reforms to safely reduce Pima County’s jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. Pima County is one of 11 jurisdictions in the country chosen to receive significant funding and access to expert technical assistance to implement a plan for reform over the next two years. In total, nearly $25 million was awarded in support of ambitious plans to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.

    The grant is a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative supported by the Foundation with an initial $75 million to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The Challenge is establishing a network of jurisdictions to model and inspire effective local criminal justice reforms across the country. Last May, Pima County was one of the 20 jurisdictions chosen by the Foundation for initial grants and expert counsel to develop plans for reform after a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories.

    “The way we misuse and over use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.” 

    With the award, Pima County will implement reforms to address the main drivers of the County’s jail population, including warrants for failure to appear on prior misdemeanor charges and low-level nonviolent offenses related to mental illness and substance abuse, with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 18 percent over three years.

    More than 10,000 people were incarcerated in Pima County Jail in 2014 for warrants for failure to appear in court, with more than 93 percent of those individuals initially arrested on misdemeanor charges. 

    “Pima County is excited to have earned this generous grant in such a competitive field,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said. “We intend to use this funding to build on our long and successful history of criminal justice innovations and reforms in a continued effort to improve public safety and increase the efficiency and equity of our justice system.” 

    In Pima County, a collaborative planning effort that included law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and other stakeholders has developed a plan that focuses on substance abuse and mental health screening of individuals who have been arrested on non-violent, misdemeanor offenses; court date reminder systems and weekend warrant resolution courts to reduce incarceration for failure to appear; training for all criminal justice system actors; increased use of home detention with electronic monitoring in place of jail; and data monitoring in conjunction with a Collaborative Working Group that will monitor the effectiveness of the strategies, in order to safely reduce jail populations and minimize racial and ethnic disparities.

    As in most jurisdictions, people of color are over represented in Pima County’s jail population. Pima County’s strategy seeks to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among jail populations in pretrial status held on misdemeanor, low-level felony or failure to appear charges. 

    Among those held on misdemeanor or lower level felony charges, African Americans make up more than 9 percent while representing just 3.3 percent of the total population, Native Americans make up 6.75 percent and just 2.4 percent of the total population, and Hispanics make up more than 40 percent while representing 35 percent of the total population. Among the population of individuals in jail for failure to appear charges, African Americans similarly make up more than 9 percent of that population in jail, Native Americans make up 8  percent and Hispanics make up 42 percent. 

    To address this disparity in the local justice system, Pima County will provide training to all criminal justice system actors on implicit bias and understanding disparities and measure the effectiveness of its strategies through data monitoring and performance measurement by the Collaborative Working Group.

    In addition, Pima County will launch reform initiatives including risk screening for all misdemeanor defendants in order to increase post-booking releases from jail; diverting more individuals to post-booking treatment instead of keeping them in jail; an enhanced automated call, text and email court-date reminder system that is expected to reduce failure to appear rates; and detention alternatives made possible through electronic monitoring technology.

    Pima County will continue to place an emphasis on community engagement and collaboration among local law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, defenders, judges and other stakeholders in this work to drive reform.

    “I am pleased and proud that Pima County has been awarded this implementation grant by the MacArthur Foundation,” Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said. “This Safety and Justice Grant funding will enable Pima County to screen all arrestees as soon as they come into the jail to see whether they suffer from mental illness, or drug and alcohol addiction, or both. Those who do not pose a danger to the community can then be released to treatment facilities where they can be better served and adequately supervised while awaiting trial. This will be a better allocation of resources and can be expected to save costs in the long run, just like our Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program has done.” 

    Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to the local level, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have the cumulative costs of building and running them. Nationwide misuse of jails most harshly impacts low-income communities and communities of color. For example, while African Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of Americans, they make up 51 percent of the U.S. jail population. Today, one in three Americans believes his or her local justice system is unfair, according to a poll by Zogby Analytics and supported by the Foundation. MacArthur launched the Safety and Justice Challenge in February 2015 to address these issues by creating fairer, more effective local justice systems and spurring national demand for reform. 

    Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to Pima County’s and other jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Vera Institute of Justice, Pretrial Justice Institute, and W. Haywood Burns Institute.

    About the MacArthur Foundation

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues.

    More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge is available at www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org

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