By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
The county's Jail Population Management Group wants to implement programs similar to Pima County's.
@body:The centerpiece of Pima County's jail-reduction program is the Pre-Trial Services Agency. The program, which evolved over 20 years in the face of steady resistance from traditional law enforcement supporters, is now widely considered to be a vital part of the county's criminal-justice system--and receives wide support from jailers and beat cops.
The program represents an approach that makes Sheriff Joe Arpaio cringe. Pre-Trial Services supervisor Kelly Keith's job is to keep people out of jail.
Keith seems to enjoy rattling off a series of questions to Jose Antonio Gallego Jr. on a cool November night, while Tucson police officer Armando Abrams stands nearby.
"Where do you live?"
"Where do you work?"
"Do you have family in town?"
Keith, a tall, attractive woman with a bit of a Texas drawl, quickly puts Gallego at ease. A few minutes earlier, Gallego had been arrested for the first time in his life after fighting with his mother's boyfriend. Instead of going straight to booking and jail on the misdemeanor assault charge, the 18-year-old construction worker is being interviewed by a smiling civilian dressed in jeans and a white sweat shirt. She's trying to learn about his ties to the community.
Keith's job is to determine whether Gallego is a threat to community safety and whether he's likely to show up for his court date. She runs a state and national computer check to see if the young man has any outstanding warrants.
Nothing spits out. Keith and Officer Abrams discuss the details of the arrest. Abrams says Gallego is a "good kid." Keith decides to release Gallego without his posting bail.
"He's a pretty good release risk," Keith says.
But instead of going completely free, Gallego is assigned to the Pima County Pre-Trial Services program. If he misses his court appearance, the program will contact him and urge him to voluntarily go to court. If Gallego ignores the warning, the next time he's arrested, he will automatically go to jail.
"Make sure you follow the release agreement," Keith warns Gallego as he prepares to leave. "I don't want to see you back in here again."
Armed with computers, and ready 24 hours a day to call whomever is necessary to verify information given by the arrested person, the 50 Pre-Trial Services workers exercise authority to release arrestees charged with misdemeanors.
"We have proven you can release a lot of people and not pose a danger to the community and get them back to court," says Kim Holloway, executive director of the Pima County Pre-Trial Services program.
The program is credited with helping keep Pima County's jail population at 1,000. The $1.5 million spent annually on the program repays itself quickly, says Captain John Alese of the Pima County Jail. He points out that the jail population would double in six months if the Pre-Trial Services program were eliminated. With the cost of housing a prisoner averaging $18,250 per year, the county would face an additional $18 million outlay to incarcerate another 1,000 inmates in a secured jail--plus the cost of building such a jail, which averages about $40,000 per cell.
"The Pre-Trial Services program is highly effective and efficient, and does a tremendous service to the community," Alese says.
@body:Things aren't so rosy here.
Maricopa County also has a pretrial services program, but it is only a fraction of the size of Pima County's. Pima County has 16 full-time workers monitoring its supervised-release program; Maricopa County has only three.
"We are grossly understaffed," says Perry Mitchell, who heads up Maricopa County's pretrial services program.
Mitchell is being generous in his assessment. Of the three workers assigned to his agency, two are disabled and cannot physically do the field work necessary to establish a pretrial-supervision program.
Mitchell's requests to hire six additional employees have gone nowhere since they were filed with the County Manager's Office last April. The additional employees would provide intensive supervision of arrestees prior to their trials, and track down defendants who fail to appear in court. The two programs could reduce the jail population by more than 1,500 over a year.
Superior Court Judge Michael Reinstein says a strong pretrial services agency would have a big impact in reducing the number of pretrial prisoners in the county jail.
"But a judge doesn't want to take the risk of putting them in the program, because there isn't any supervision," Reinstein says.
The tug of war between Arpaio's Archie Bunker philosophy of "lock em all up" and Pima County's approach to diverting nonviolent offenders is likely to continue for some time. The turning point likely will come with a new federal court order, perhaps holding Maricopa County in contempt of the 1981 consent decree.
In the meantime, Maricopa County taxpayers continue to pay to incarcerate at least 1,000 nonviolent prisoners at a cost of about $10 million per year. But don't expect Sheriff Arpaio to support any jail-reform program that doesn't include more prisoners.
"I'm in charge of the jail," he says when asked whether he supports efforts to reduce the number of county prisoners. "Jails come under the sheriff.