by Blake Hamilton, Esq., NCCE
The Gila County Detention Center Inmate Behavior Form was put into place in January of 2004 after many months of discussion with Superior Court judges, our county attorney’s office and the probation department. The form documents the in-custody behavior of inmates who are awaiting sentencing on their charges. If an inmate has behaved poorly while incarcerated, it is reflected in the pre-sentence report by the Gila County Attorney’s Office. On the other hand, should the inmate’s behavior reflect good conduct while in jail, that information also is presented. While it took a short while for the inmates to get used to the change, it is now an accepted policy and practice within our jails and has been highly effective since its inception.
The results of implementing this system has saved our county tens of thousands of dollars, including staff time and labor, transportation, medical costs, lost time, officer injuries, inmate injuries and certain avoided incidents and assaults which cannot be counted but are certainly obvious to our agency.
Prior to this policy taking effect, we did what most agencies were and most still are doing. We file criminal charges on those inmates who were committing crimes in our institution. The inmate would be brought to the magistrate and a new case would begin in addition to any other charges he or she may have been originally brought in for. This system works fine in case the defendant is released for whatever reason from the original charges; he/she can then be held pending adjudication on the new charges. In the majority of the cases however, the defendant will in many instances be found guilty on the charges and sentenced to the Department of Corrections (DOC), for an unspecified period of time. We have found ourselves many times having to go back to the Arizona DOC to transport the inmate back to our facility for court on our charges.
More often than not the courts would give this defendant/inmate time served for his/her crime knowing that the individual is already doing a sentence in the state prison for other crimes. And, when a sentence was imposed on our charges the courts would in many circumstances give additional time to run “concurrent” with DOC time.
This has always left us with a feeling that the inmate’s behavior in jail was overlooked and that attempts by the jail staff and administration to seek justice was futile. In other words, most, and in some cases, all charges went unpunished, not to mention the expense to the sheriff’s office of transporting and housing, and the additional staff required to perform these functions.
Our current system of course is quite different. We still will file any charges of criminal activity within our facility as it may occur. However, now if the defendant is not released on his/her original charges and has to stand trial, or please guilt, or is looking to accept a plea, he/she must face all consequences of assault or criminal behaviors while incarcerated as the pre-sentence report includes this information. Conversely, if the defendant has shown good behavior he/she will be given credit for such. Thanks to Sheriff John R. Armer, this system has been in place now for over 7 years and every year-end report shows a significant decrease in the number of assaults and incident reports in our two jails as a direct result of the system and the form.
If the Gila County Sheriff’s Office can be of any assistance to anyone wishing to implement a program such as we have here, it would be our pleasure to help in any way that we can.