County making progress in reducing jail population

TusconTUCSON, AZ- It’s been one year since Pima County received a $1.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to reduce its jail population, and officials say they’re making progress.

Pima County Assistant County Administrator Ellen Wheeler said since this time last year, they have already seen a 15 percent reduction of the average daily jail population.

Wheeler added the reduction is due to the implementation of their three key strategies.

Their main focus is targeting people who commit low level crimes and suffer from mental illness or addition.

She said instead of sending those people to jail, they’ll be screened during their first court appearance and given other options or treatment.

“It is much less expensive to provide treatment in the community,” Wheeler said. “It is much better for the individuals and it is much more effective. So for a long-term solution, it is much better to get people out of jail and into treatment.”

Another strategy the county is using is preventing and resolving “failure to appear” warrants and home detention with electronic monitoring for nonviolent offenders.

Wheeler said the goal is to decrease the jail population by 26 percent by 2019.

That would be lowest number of inmates in 20 years.

That reduction could save tax payers $2 million a year if sections of the jail can be closed.

As the county works toward reducing the jail population, they are holding a “Decriminalizing Mental Illness” conference Tuesday and Wednesday for judges, lawyers and law enforcement.

They will be discussing and learning new ways to help people suffering from a mental illness.

By: Cynthia Washington
Published: May 16, 2017

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