Pima County, AZ

Change in Jail Population 16%

Action Areas Community Engagement Diversion Interagency Collaboration Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

In 2014, the Pima County Adult Detention Center was nearing capacity. The county grappled with the decision to either build a new and bigger jail or find ways to safely reduce the jail population. With local jail expenditures amounting to roughly $66 million a year, this crisis had a direct impact on taxpayers.

Snapshots of Pima County’s jail population in 2011-2014 showed that more than 80% of people in the jail were typically being held while awaiting trial. The main drivers of the pretrial jail population, based on 2014 data, include warrants for failures to appear in court (93% of which related to underlying misdemeanor charges), misdemeanor charges like shoplifting and DUIs, and lower-level felony charges, such as possession/use of a dangerous or narcotic drug, possession of drug paraphernalia and aggravated criminal damage.

The 2014 data also showed that people of color were over-incarcerated in the county jail. Specifically, 9.6% of Black people were being held pretrial, compared with 3.3% of the county’s total population. In addition, 40.7% of Hispanic people were being held pretrial, compared with 35% of the county’s total population.

An impact was also felt by the county’s tribal communities. Native Americans made up only 2.4% of the county’s total population, but they represented 6.75% of the pretrial population, and 8% of those held in jail on failure to appear charges.

Finally, in 2014, mental illness and substance use affected an estimated 60% of the jail population in Pima County.

Strategies

Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Pima County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.

01

PRE-ARREST DEFLECTION

This pre-arrest deflection effort is a strategy chosen after a review of jail data showed that the Tucson Police Department accounted for nearly half of the total bookings in the Pima County jail. Instead of incarceration, the pre-arrest deflection strategy redirects individuals with substance abuse and/or mental health issues to community treatment resources.

02

EXPANDED PRETRIAL SERVICES

Pretrial Services expanded to include a substance abuse caseload, in addition to its established behavioral health caseload.

03

IMPROVED PROBATION PRACTICES

The Adult Probation Department of the Superior Court in Pima County changed its model to recommending jail stays for probation violations only as a final resort, after exhausting every other possible option to continue community supervision. Pima County Probation now accomplishes more to ensure successful community supervision and avoid probation revocations.

04

JAIL POPULATION REVIEW

The Jail Population Review Committee identifies people with felony charges who pose little risk to public safety and may be safely released from the jail while awaiting appearances before the Court. Thirty members meet weekly and represent county and city agencies, community treatment providers, peer networks, supportive housing providers, and community members. Case management strategies are identified and recommended.

05

STEPS DIVERSION PROGRAM

Supportive Treatment and Engagement Programs (STEPS) is a felony diversion program that launched in 2021. STEPS is a new pre-charging drug court program, aimed at offering participants an opportunity to connect with substance abuse treatment rather than cycle in and out of jail. STEPS has the potential to divert an estimated 500-700 pretrial defendants per year from criminal case processing.

06

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

The county pledged to engage the community in reimagining its justice system. This included holding Tribal Listening Sessions; developing a trauma-informed mentorship program for young Black males; and creating a robust Community Collaborative comprised of justice systems leadership with community representatives to collectively transform the justice system.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Pima County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Pima County (2016-2021)

15.5% from baseline

More Results

From March 2019 to March 2021, over 1,200 individuals awaiting court appearances for felony charges were released through the efforts of the Jail Population Review Committee, either via modified conditions of release and community supervision or to residential housing or treatment. These releases equate to over 42,000 jail days reduced at a cost of $127.20 per bed day, adding up to savings in detention costs and a reduced average daily jail population.

Pima County Superior Court’s Enhanced Supervision program helped save an estimated 4,633 jail bed days for individuals in the first and second quarters of Fiscal Year 2020-2021, through more robust staffing and case management.

Pima County Adult Probation Department released their “Probation Strategy CQI Dashboard” for FY 2020-2021, demonstrating a variety of successes as a result of their strategies. Among those include a significant reduction in the numbers of Petitions to Revoke (PTR) filed. Fewer PTR’s filed result in fewer persons arrested on a probation violation warrant and booked into the county jail. Rather than file a PTR, probation officers work harder to reengage probationers and find solutions to barriers to success.

The county’s data collection and analysis efforts have improved with the placement of additional staff, providing data to the Tucson Police Department, a dedicated Data Coordinator for the Justice Services Department, and the Jail Population Coordinator. For example, the data analyst at the Tucson Police Department helped produce interactive data dashboards on a variety of topics including use of force, reported crimes, arrests, traffic collisions, traffic enforcement, and police activity, which will inform future strategies to improve practices within the justice system.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and due to staffing reductions, the county’s Community Collaborative group fell into a hiatus. The county revived this dynamic group in February 2021 and the focus shifted to seeking out the perspectives and recommendations from members, rather than providing information to members. The Community Collaborative developed an action plan with interrelated areas of work aimed at deepening the county’s connection to the broader community, particularly people who have been historically overrepresented in the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Pima County is focused on addressing remaining challenges in its local justice system.

While progress has been made, issues of differing database systems, coding systems, and privacy persist, which makes data sharing among the stakeholders challenging.

Enhanced caseloads in Pretrial Services have not made much of a dent in lowering the jail population. The impact of judicial autonomy and decision-making was not factored in considerations of justice reform. When judges are unwilling to consider release recommendations, the best plans for reform can become stalled. Further, if courts do not collect data on judicial decisions, efforts to reduce racial, ethnic, and even income disparities become even more difficult to address.

The pandemic slowed Pima County’s Racial and Ethnic Disparities and Disproportionalities program. At the end of February 2021, the Community Collaborative began meeting monthly and reestablished its Racial Equity Community Action Team, a subcommittee whose purpose is to develop and implement a plan to engage the community through a series of Community Dialogues that will collaborate and coordinate with community organizers, identify gaps, and lead to policy recommendations to the County’s Board of Supervisors.

In order to sustainably support long-term strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and disproportionalities in the justice system, while ensuring community voice and experience is incorporated into all Pima County’s justice reform work, Justice Services has hired a Community Engagement and Equity Specialist. This position, funded with General Funds, will lead the Community Collaborative, future Listening Sessions, and work to incorporate data-driven decision making into trauma-informed policy and programming.

Justice Services also contracted with a Tribal Engagement Specialist (member of the Tohono O’Odham Nation) to lead a series of Listening Sessions with two local tribes. Due to both shutdowns related to the pandemic, as well as cultural stigmas associated with discussing justice system involvement, the sessions struggled to yield results. Pima plans to revisit this strategy once pandemic restrictions are lifted, with future guidance from local experts who can inform a culturally-competent approach.

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Lead Agency

Pima County Administrator’s Office

Contact Information

Kate Vesely
kate.vesely@pima.gov

Mayra Ramos
Mayra.Ramos@pima.gov

Partners

Pima County Attorney’s Office, Pima County Public Defense Services, Pima County Sheriff’s Department – Adult Detention Complex, Pima County Superior Court, Pima County Adult Probation, Pima County Pretrial Services, Tucson City Court, City of Tucson Public Defender’s Office, City of Tucson Prosecutor’s Office, Tucson Police Department

Follow @PCSafetyJustice

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