Putting adult offenders in juvenile detention an option

2014-08-15T21:45:00Z 2014-08-16T10:37:47Z Putting adult offenders in juvenile detention an optionBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

On most days, the Pima County jail is close to bursting at its seams, with only a few dozen open beds to hold inmates.

Meanwhile, the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center sits mostly empty, with only about 40 juveniles occupying the 300-bed facility.

As a result, jail officials are discussing the possibility of moving some of its inmates — mainly women and youths who are charged as adults — to the juvenile facility to alleviate some of the overcrowding.

The jail is also looking to revise some of its rehabilitation programs and target repeat offenders, with hopes of reducing the number of inmates who return to jail, officials said.

The discussions to move some inmates, as well as plans to modify jail programs, are in the early stages.

Jail officials want to look at every option for reducing its population before having to potentially ask voters to pay for a new jail.

“I think it’s responsible of the Sheriff’s Department that, instead of asking the voters for a $180 million facility, we explore all options before we do that,” said Capt. Joshua Arnold, corrections captain for the Pima County jail.

Jail and juvenile detention center officials will have to figure out how to separate juveniles and inmates, and make the necessary modifications to the detention center before moving inmates to the facility.

There is no timeline yet for when any changes would take place.

“Right now, we’re in very early stages of talking to them about what space they have available,” Arnold said.

The jail has operated close to or over capacity for the last couple of years, although the number fluctuates daily, depending on how many inmates are booked and how many are released.

In 2013, the average inmate head count was 2,037. The jail has 2,067 beds.

Jail officials have had to create space to house any extra inmates, which can create a tense environment, he said.

“We obviously have to take everybody we get and we end up overcrowded, putting inmates in spaces where they weren’t designed to be,” he said. “It usually results in more fights, more assaults. It’s not a good situation.”

According to jail projections, the average daily population is expected to increase to between 2,505 and 2,781 inmates by 2020, which means the county will eventually have to build a new jail.

The projections are based on anticipated population growth, he said.

Jail officials are also looking to modify some of the facility’s programs as another way to reduce its population.

The county sought help from the National Institute of Corrections, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to learn how the jail could improve its programs.

Jail programs range from Narcotics Anonymous to education and religious activities.

The National Institute of Corrections made numerous suggestions in a study it released, including focusing on habitual offenders who keep returning to jail.

That also includes creating and revising programs that address criminal thinking and attitudes, Arnold said.

“Less than 20 percent of your local offenders commit 50 percent of your local crime,” he said. “We want to target that 20 percent.”

The overcrowding and the projected increase in adult inmates stand in contrast to the steep decline in juvenile offenders.

Juvenile detention officials say the decrease in youth offenders is due to a number of initiatives geared toward keeping children out of juvenile detention.

Those programs include after-school centers and domestic-violence treatment, as well as consistently monitoring youths on probation, said Ron Overholt, deputy Superior Court administrator for juveniles.

“Any approach we can do, outside of locking a kid up, is the first alternative,” Overholt said.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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