TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County is getting a $150,000 grant to help keep people out of jail, including keeping them from going back there.
The grant comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of a $75 million initiative to change the way America thinks about jails.
Pima County leaders will use the money to find what causes jail overcrowding, and why more low-income, minority and mentally ill adults end up there compared with the population at large. They will work with expert consultants, and in 2016 the county could receive more money to help put its solutions into action.
Pima County and 19 jurisdictions were chosen out of applications from across the country.
"This grant allows us to greatly expand Pima County's current justice reform efforts," County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a press release. "The County is committed to finding new ways to divert low-risk and first-time offenders from jail, so that they can be productive members of the community, and to providing evidence-based services to inmates that will improve their transition from jail to the community and reduce recidivism. We all know budgets are tight and these funds will let us really explore what is driving our jail population. That will help us identify best practices, address gaps in service and design plans to improve our approach to incarceration, which – in the end – saves the taxpayers money."
Pima County leaders say their 2,377-bed jail is frequently near capacity. The county estimates that by the year 2020 the detainee population could reach nearly 2,800 if nothing is done to help keep poor, low-risk and mentally ill people out of jail.
According to a February 2015 Pima County Health Department report, 46 percent of adults booked into the local jail were eligible for Medicaid, which means they were living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Additionally, according to Pima County 2014 arrest data, 58 percent of those arrested and 59.1 percent of those booked into the jail were from minority populations.