Pima County Jail

Pima County Jail

More than three dozen inmates have been released from the Pima County jail over the last month, saving taxpayers more than $130,000 under efforts to reduce the jail population.

A Jail Population Review Committee is assessing the custody status of inmates to identify safe and effective release conditions while balancing public-safety concerns. The 13-person committee began planning in January and began sorting through a list of eligible defendants in mid-March.

To qualify for release by the review committee, an inmate must have been in jail at least 10 days, and have been booked on nonviolent charges .

Other requirements include the defendant’s acknowledgment of having a change in circumstance, such as housing availability or being ready to participate in community rehabilitation. Eligible defendants also must have been charged with a non-personal crime, such as drug possession.

The committee was modeled after successful programs in Ohio and Missouri and aims to reduce the use of jails while mitigating failures to appear, according to a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

In March, the county hired retired Pima County corrections officer Michael Steber to serve in a new position as jail population coordinator.

Huckelberry funded the position, which is housed within the Sheriff’s Department, to examine the reason every inmate is held in the jail and to evaluate whether each individual should stay in jail or be released while awaiting the outcome in their case, the memo said.

As of April 11, 40 defendants had been released from jail either through Pima County Adult Probation Services’ referrals to residential treatment facilities or through release to Pretrial Services’ enhanced case supervision for substance-abuse or mental-health issues, according to the memo.

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Estimated cost savings as a result of deflecting the 40 people from jail totals $131,623. It’s estimated that the 40 inmates would have spent a combined 1,319 days in jail, the memo said.

Of the 40 people released, 25 were sent to residential treatment facilities. The other 15 had their conditions of release modified through Pima County Superior Court, according to charts provided by the county.

To further reduce the inmate population, Pima County is getting ready to open a modular building outside the jail next month to serve as a pre-booking area in an effort to prevent non-violent offenders from being booked into jail in the first place.

People accused of misdemeanors, those who have mental-health or drug issues, as well as other factors that could affect the likelihood they will show up for their court proceedings, will be screened at the center.

The county estimates it will screen between 250 and 300 people per month at the center, saving $350 in booking costs for each inmate. This amounts to a potential savings of more than $1 million per year.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

I'm a watchdog reporter covering local government, the University of Arizona and sports investigations.