Since opening last September, Pima County’s Pretrial Services Annex has been working to reduce the jail population by allowing certain misdemeanor defendants to be screened for release instead of being booked into jail immediately.
Now, officials are looking to increase the number of screenings at the annex.
The temporary annex, located next to the Pima County Jail, is the first phase of a plan to construct a permanent two-story screening facility that will also serve as a re-entry housing space to help inmates transition back into the community. Officials estimate the annex will eventually conduct up to 500 misdemeanor screenings per month, saving county taxpayers about $1.5 million each year.
Construction on the permanent structure is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 and will cost the county $5.5 million.
“What we’re doing is screening these individuals who have lower level charges before they get booked into the jail,” said Domingo Corona, director of pretrial services. “This allows the sheriff’s department to focus, in the jail, on those who are in for higher level charges and may be a little higher risk.”
Corona said the number of arrestees being processed through the annex started off small, but is growing.
“It’s important to increase the number of people who get screened through the annex and we are hoping that more collaboration with law enforcement will help get that number up a little higher,” he said.
A Jan. 31 memorandum by Superior Court Administrator Ronald Overholt showed that between Sept. 1, 2019, and Jan. 22, the annex screened and released 116 arrestees. The number of those released after being booked into jail also decreased by nearly 25%.
More than 50% of the misdemeanor defendants who have been released through the annex have failure to appear warrants. Some of the other charges include criminal trespassing, drug possession, driving under the influence and shoplifting.
“These are individuals who usually have failed to appear in court charges,” Corona said. “So, partially what we’re doing is making sure the defendant is reminded of obligations to appear in court.”
The pretrial screening staff also works with released defendants by calling them to remind them of upcoming court dates.
“We intentionally started with a ‘soft’ opening to make sure our processes were working and appropriate,” Overholt said. “We will need to change the culture with law enforcement agencies who have traditionally taken all arrestees to be booked, rather than through the pre-booking screening.”
In the Jan. 31 memo, Overholt said he spoke with Chief Byron Gwaltney of the sheriff’s department who said he was prepared to put in place a process where officers would be required to take all persons arrested on misdemeanors, except domestic violence, to the annex for screening before they are brought to jail for booking.
“This should dramatically increase the traffic through the annex,” he wrote.
Corona said he hopes the annex will continue to help keep people out of jail and reduce recidivism in Pima County.
Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @JasmineADemers.