Jail over capacity - Tucson News Now

Jail over capacity

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - During the hot summers in Tucson, the population at the Pima County Jail declines.

But not this year.

The jail's capacity is 2,122 inmates.

On May 28, the jail held 2,159.

By 2022 there could be 3,000.

The numbers for June haven't been tallied up yet but it's predicted they will be over capacity, too.

What's causing this isn't yet known although a few fingers are being pointed.

It's likely a combination of things.

But recently Ray Carroll, Supervisor from District 4, told us, "Our trial rate is still way above the national average by huge amounts and I think that's part of the problem."   

He's asking the Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall to rethink her policy of taking more cases to trial.

That seems to be a prevailing attitude among many in the county.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry asked the sheriff's department for a report on Evidence Based Criminal Justice Policy and Practice n Pima County.

The report will likely be used to collect data to help exert some pressure on the County Attorney to rethink her policy.

That may be a hard sell.

When LaWall was running for the office in 1996, plea bargaining was a big part of the campaign. Her opponent at the time suggested more plea bargains.

One reason LaWall received the endorsement of then retiring County Attorney Steve Neely was her commitment to taking cases to trial rather than plea bargain. She's won re-election every since, so she's not likely to change.

But there may be some room for change because she has expressed her frustration with recidivism, convicts who are released but then become part of the system again.

At her announcement three years ago for an alternative to prison for some drugs users, she lamented "it was with a great deal of frustration that I watched a cycle repeat itself. It was a cycle of offenders who were arrested, prosecuted convicted, incarcerated, eventually released and then promptly became re-arrested, prosecuted and then sent back to prison."

 For three years, she praised the program as a model of success. When the money ran out this year, she began an effort to raise the money elsewhere, including the state legislature.

Whether that means there will be a change of heart is yet to be determined but it may be an opening, one that the County Administrator is looking for.

Approximately 62 percent of the county budget goes to criminal justice and law enforcement and it's increasing.

The county appropriated an extra $6 million to the sheriff's department and $2 million more for indigent defense because they have both habitually over spend their budgets. That will be another eight cents on the property tax rate.

The hope is the report may find a way to allow some inmates to be released early or others to never be incarcerated at all. That's always controversial among a law and order public.

But the alternative may be adding more jail space which could cost as much as $100 million.

Neither alternative is very palpable but one or a combination of the two will soon be before the county board.

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