Tucson Is Not Like Chicago – Solving Old Murders Helps Prevent New Ones

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In recent months President Trump has called for a new national initiative to reverse what he sees as a sharp increase in violent crime across the nation. On February 7, the President told a gathering of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the nation that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Two days later, in his first public comments made immediately after he was sworn in as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions stated, “We have a crime problem. I wish the blip — I wish the rise that we’re seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”

While violent crime is still at historic lows, murder rates are rising in some U.S. cities

Neither President Trump nor Attorney General Session’s assertions are borne out by objective facts or FBI crime data. The murder rate — defined as the number of murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 residents— went from a high of 10.2 in 1980 to 4.4 in 2014. The raw number of homicides in America has declined from 19,645 in 1996 to 15,696 in 2015, even while the population has risen from 265 million to 321 million during that same period.

US murder rate

Likewise, despite Attorney General Session’s assertions to the contrary, long-term US violent crime trends have been declining — not increasing— for years.

US crime rate

However, while overall national crime rates are still at historic lows, it is true that 2015 and 2016 have seen upticks. Violent crime ticked up roughly 4% from 2014 to 2015. The murder rate increased to 4.9 in 2015, and the Brennan Center for Justice has projected an additional 14% increase in our 30 largest cities when all of the 2016 numbers are in.

The recent spike in homicide rates is real, but it is also a highly localized problem. It is not the fictitious nation-wide trend decried by Attorney General Sessions. 2016’s 14% increase in the urban murder rate is mostly accounted for by two very specific murder spikes: one in Chicago and one in Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, Chicago’s murder increase will alone account for almost half of the overall 2016 urban murder increase. This invites two questions: what is wrong with Chicago, and how can we ensure Pima County doesn’t follow Chicago’s lead?

Chicago murder rate

U.S. and Chicago murder clearance rates drop

According to the Brennan Center, some reasons for the increasing violence in Chicago include, “falling police numbers, poverty and other forms of socioeconomic disadvantage, and gang violence.” One factor the Brennan Center gives less attention to, and which may go a long way towards explaining things, is the murder clearance rate.

In law enforcement, a murder case is “cleared” when a suspect is arrested, whatever the eventual judicial outcome may be. “Clearance rates” are a measure of what percentage of murders results in an arrest. For years, it was difficult for researchers and criminologists to accurately ascertain true clearance rates in big cities and small towns across the country. But in 2015 Thomas K. Hargrove, a retired investigative journalist and former White House correspondent, founded the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP). Hargrove created MAP to track unsolved homicides nationwide, using algorithms to study the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Every year Hargrove downloaded and crunched the most recent FBI data set, and was shocked by the number of murder cases that had never been cleared — 211,487 — more than a third of the homicides recorded from 1980 to 2010. Bloomberg Business week recently published a profile of Hargrove and his work, and explained how U.S. homicide clearance rates have been on a longtime downward trend.

US murder clearance rates

Disturbingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – murder clearance rates also appear to be plagued by the same racial and gender disparities that haunt the criminal justice system as a whole.

 Clearance rates by demographic

“If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings?”

How does all of this relate to what is wrong with Chicago? Well, as Bloomberg journalist Robert Kolker wrote in his profile of Thomas Hargrove and MAP, it seems intuitive that at least some murderers will kill again, and if so, low clearance rates will correlate with higher murder rates. Sure enough, Hargrove confirmed this when he analyzed information from 218 metropolitan jurisdictions in the 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report, and found that the homicide rate in low clearance rate cities was almost double the rate of high clearance rate cities — 9.6 homicides per 100,000 people versus 17.9. “It makes perfect sense,” Hargrove said. “If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings? The answer is, it does.”

The data from Chicago supports this thesis. While the national murder clearance rate has held roughly steady since 2000, the Chicago rate has dropped precipitously.

Chicago murder clearance rate

Tucson is not like Chicago

In 2015 Chicago’s homicide total hit 472, and police cleared just 123 of those cases – a 26% clearance rate. Compare this to Pima County, where law enforcement cleared 37 of 48 homicides in 2015- a 77% clearance rate. Our police and Sheriff’s deputies also did a better job than their counterparts North of the Gila River; Maricopa County law enforcement cleared 127 out of 172 homicides in 2015 – a 74% clearance rate.

2015 clearance rates

It is important not to view improving murder clearance rates as a magical panacea. Violent crime in Chicago and other U.S. cities is undoubtedly exacerbated by the social factors the Brennan Center listed. However, Thomas Hargrove’s Murder Accountability Project has demonstrated a strong correlation between higher clearance rates and lower murder rates.

Obviously hiring more police officers, and ensuring they are well-trained and well-paid, would likely improve the situation in areas struck by the recent uptick in violent crime. But as criminologist Charles Wellford demonstrated in a study published in 2000, clearance rates also depend on how quickly detectives respond to a murder scene, how effectively they can cordon off the scene and interview potential witnesses, and whether detectives are given the leeway to chase leads in the hours immediately after a murder, even if that means paying them overtime. These may be important reasons why Tucson is not like Chicago. In the face of a new moral panic over a fictitious crime wave— created and stoked by our President and Attorney General— it is important to keep our criminal justice efforts focused on scientific, qualitative law enforcement, and it is important to be proud of Pima County for what it has been doing right.

– Joel Feinman

Pima Sheriff’s Home Detention Program protects & saves taxpayers $450,000

Pima County home detention program

For almost two years, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has been at the forefront of implementing a home detention program for low-level, non-violent offenders that has saved Pima County taxpayers $450,000 and counting.

422 enrollees; 0 escape attempts

Created in April, 2015, by India Davis and Corrections Lieutenant Elsa Navarro, the Sheriff’s Home Detention Program originally only applied to people convicted of misdemeanor DUIs. Recently the program has expanded to include people convicted of other misdemeanors and some low-level, non-dangerous felonies who have been sentenced to jail time, although alcohol-related convictions still compose the majority of the program. For years such people have been allowed out of jail during the day to go to work, but have been required to return to the jail each night as part of a program known as “work release” or “work furlough.” The Home Detention Program allows these people to spend nights in their home, while equipping them with a GPS ankle bracelet that constantly tracks their location. The GPS system is accurate to within 10 feet, and each bracelet emits a ping every 5 minutes to constantly inform the jail that enrollees are where they are supposed to be. The system can be adjusted to ping every 60 seconds if necessary, and the jail automatically gets an alarm if an enrollee attempts to tamper with the monitor or ventures within 5 miles of Pima County limits, a train station, airport, or any other exclusion zone that the jail can set, such as a victim’s house. 422 people have enrolled in the Home Detention Program since its inception, and there has not been a single attempt to escape or remove a GPS monitor. As part of the vetting process each enrollee is required to sign a Notice of Intent to Prosecute, informing them that any escape attempt will be prosecuted as a class 5 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

“A very stringent vetting process”

“We are very selective about who gets into the program,” interim Corrections Chief Sean Stewart told The Pima Liberator. “There is a very stringent vetting process, and we don’t want to set anyone up for failure.” As part of that process all potential enrollees are required to fill out an Inmate Interview sheet, where they must disclose all of their residence information, work information, vehicle information, and criminal history. They are also required to sign an Inmate Agreement that includes the following provisions:

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Home Detention Program inmate agreement provisions

Even after people are enrolled in the program and equipped with a GPS monitor, they are still required to report to the jail in person once a week for alcohol and drug testing.

Keeping the community safer

A key concern with work furlough and work release programs is that law enforcement cannot know for sure if a person is actually going to work when they are released from jail during the day. In one instance a person on furlough was released to go work, and jail personnel did not hear from them until they received a call from Border Patrol telling them that the same person was caught coming back from Mexico while attempting to smuggle a load of drugs in to the U.S. “Home detention is much safer for the community than work furlough or work release,” said Captain Stewart. “In this program the jail knows where you are at all times, and tells you where you can and cannot go.” The Home Detention Program is staffed by 5 Sheriff’s Sergeants who log into the system daily to make sure all enrollees are where they are supposed to be – a fail-safe backup to the system’s built-in, automatic notification software. One additional Pima County Sheriff’s Sergeant has the full-time assignment to monitor and evaluate all enrollees. According to Captain Stewart, Lieutenant Navarro, and Captain Darin Stephens – three corrections officers who oversee the Home Detention Program – they would like to see the program expanded to included people in jail awaiting trial. “The average Pima County jail stay is 10 days. No one should be in jail for 10 days; they should either be in jail until their trial or home,” said Captain Stewart. If someone has a job and is not a threat to their community “they should be allowed to keep working, support their kids, and pay their taxes.”

Effective and fiscally responsible law enforcement

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Daily costs per inmate

Funding for both the Home Detention Program and the Pima County Jail comes from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department budget, which comes from the county general fund in the form of property tax revenue. The Pima County Jail costs taxpayers $89 per inmate per day, compared to the Home Detention Program which costs only $11 per inmate per day for GPS ankle monitoring, and $15 per inmate per day for GPS and alcohol monitoring. Thus the Home Detention Program costs taxpayers almost 500% less than jail time, which has translated to a saving of $450,000 in taxpayer money since the Program was created in 2015.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Home Detention Program is exactly the kind of forward-thinking, effective, and fiscally responsible law enforcement that we should be promoting and supporting. According to Captain Stewart, the Home Detention Program can only continue to succeed with judicial and community buy-in. Our prosecutors and judges need to make more people eligible for home detention. The only practical limit to the potential size of the program is the number of people in Pima County Jail – both awaiting trial and serving a sentence – who are not a danger to the community, and who should be out of jail working and contributing to society. For every tax dollar we spend on GPS home detention we save exponentially more dollars by not locking people up. We also increase the employment rate, decrease the number of people who need public assistance when they get out of jail, and prevent families from being torn apart by needless and unjust incarceration policies.

– Joel Feinman

“Tough On Crime” Deepens Mental Health Crisis

Mass incarceration trauma 1

The bogeyman of “state intrusion” – a phrase usually used as a euphemism for taxation or regulation among advocates of small government – is a popular one. However, it is difficult to understand the full meaning of the phrase until the state intrudes into your home, through your body, and through your children’s bodies. People who have been incarcerated and their families understand this very real encroachment of the state into their personal lives.

In his October, 2015 article, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, Ta-Nehisi Coates charts the policy history which culminated in today’s mass incarceration crisis. As Coates points out,

“In absolute terms, America’s prison and jail population from 1970 until today has increased sevenfold, from some 300,000 people to 2.2 million.”

This crisis is a financial one and a practical one. By now it is a well-documented fact that the rates at which we incarcerate people have not had any notable effect on crime rates. Yet mass incarceration has been one of the most expensive ventures in the modern history of our country.

It is a human crisis.

Coates correctly points out that there is a causal relationship between the poor material conditions experienced by individuals living in poverty and certain risk factors which lead to criminal behavior. These same individuals often live without access to many of the social services afforded to the well-off, such as healthcare and behavioral services. Moreover, it is clear that poverty and crime have a cyclically causal relationship, which can easily be traced through the history of the many structures of institutionalized racism which, for centuries, have plagued people of color and African-Americans especially.

From a psychological perspective, it is crucial to point out the fact that the experience of poverty drastically increases the likelihood that an individual will struggle with addiction and experience mental health issues, such as PTSD and C-PTSD. Without proper treatment, these issues may lead to unemployment and even homelessness. Among others, Coates identifies these four risk factors – homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, and mental illness – as particularly common in low-income African-American communities, and as common causes of criminal behavior.  He describes it as such:

“High rates of incarceration, single-parent households, dropping out of school, and poverty are not unrelated vectors. Instead, taken together, they constitute what [Harvard sociologist Robert] Sampson calls ‘compounded deprivation’—entire families, entire neighborhoods, deprived in myriad ways, must navigate, all at once, a tangle of interrelated and reinforcing perils.”

Per Coates’ assessment, cases of PTSD  and other mental illnesses which go untreated are often the cause of criminal behavior in low-income communities of color.

Oppression produces and exacerbates trauma and its consequences.

Though  not an excuse for harmful behavior, criminal behavior does not occur as a result of some moral failing on the part of poor people of color. Rather, a lack of services available to address the material conditions which lead to trauma and its ramifications is to blame.

I know firsthand about the traumas that members of vulnerable communities experience. In these communities, PTSD is primarily caused by neglect, prolonged material deprivation, and sexual violence. Moreover, there is a clear overlap between the conditions people of color (especially women of color) experience when they have severely limited access to social services, and the factors which lead to trauma-related conditions. Women of color are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and sexual trauma is commonly overlooked in areas where incarceration is favored over treatment.

Incarceration only accelerates the poverty-prison pipeline, and repeated trauma further speeds it along. It is especially common for female inmates to be revictimized in prison. The cycles of abuse, violence, and drug dependency (factors which produced criminal behavior in the first place) continue to occur behind bars. A highly punitive and retribution-focused approach to prosecution, especially for nonviolent crimes, is not only draconian but also ineffective. So-called “tough on crime” crackdowns punish the most vulnerable people in our communities, and thereby fuel the system of abuse and revictimization by adding the state as an agent of that abuse yet again, this time in the form of a prison.

There is no documented evidence to support the claim that incarceration is effective in addressing these issues: in fact, it is quite clear that incarceration only exacerbates cycles of poverty and trauma. Moreover, the explosive growth of the prison industry over the last 40-50 years has been tremendously costly to taxpayers who do not benefit from its perpetuation.

In the age of mass incarceration, the state has different functions for different groups of people. The prison-industrial complex produces profit for some. Its price is the capture of black bodies and their forced labor, abuse, and traumatization in prison.

– Tara Taylor

Under LaWall administration Pima County incarceration rates swamp Maricopa

Pima County Attorney mass incarceration

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall was first elected to office in 1996. In that time we have seen an explosion in the population of the Pima County jail, a growth even larger than what took place under Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County.

According to figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization, between 1970 and 2014 the Maricopa County Jail incarceration rate grew by 58% per 100,000 residents, while the Pima County Jail incarceration rate exploded by 210%. In 2014, the last year for which comprehensive numbers are available, Pima County actually had more people being held in its jail per 100,000 residents, 320, than Maricopa County had per 100,000 of its residents, 301.

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The average length of a jail stay in Pima County has also increased dramatically, from 14 days in 1996 when Ms. LaWall was first elected to 23 days in 2014.

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This vast increase in incarceration rates would be more comprehensible if Pima County was experiencing a historic crime wave, but according to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, our state is enjoying record low crime rates. In an article they co-wrote and published in The Arizona Republic in December, 2015, Ms. LaWall and Mr. Montgomery told the people of Arizona that “Arizona crime rates [had fallen] to 40 – 50 year lows,” that violent crime was at its lowest level since 1971 and property crime at its lowest level since 1963, and that “the big news in Arizona is that we are outpacing the national decline [in crime] by a significant margin.”

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At the same time as crime is falling, so are the number of people arrested. The Arizona Department of Public Safety reports that, from 2002 – 2013, the number of people arrested in Pima County fell by 30% – this at a time when Pima County’s population increased by 12%.

Our criminal justice system is not created and maintained by a deus ex machina. Real people decide every day who goes to jail and how long they stay there for. Every day the Pima County Attorney decides who to recommend bail for, who to try and hold in jail with very high or no bail, and what kinds of mandatory jail terms to offer in plea agreements. Until we start holding them accountable, until we start demanding answers for why we have exploding incarceration rates at a time of historically low crime and arrest rates, the plague of mass incarceration and the erosion of our civil liberties will only worsen.

– Joel Feinman

Taxpayers cannot afford the death penalty

Death Penalty in Arizona 4

The largest intrusion government makes into the lives of its citizens is the right of the state to kill its own. If the state doesn’t like you, it can kill you. We, as citizens, relinquish that right to the state. And, of course, we have the right to revoke that privilege.

There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. Here are some: 1) It’s wrong, 2) It’s unfair, 3) It doesn’t work. Need more? It also kills the innocent. It also costs three times more to kill someone than it does to keep that person in prison for the rest of their lives.

Why should we stop killing?

For such a morally reprehensible, not to mention outright faulty tool, the death penalty is astoundingly expensive. And frankly, we can’t afford it anymore. There are far more important things to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on than death sentences that take, on average, a quarter of a century to carry out. Why the extra cost? Court costs more than incarceration. We pay judges more than we pay wardens. We pay lawyers more than we pay prison guards. Seemingly “endless appeals” are required by state law and our Constitution. The state (meaning taxpayers) pays for everything. Unless you have millions of dollars, you don’t have enough money to defend yourself in a capital murder case. So we pay for the defense and prosecution of these cases.

You’ve heard by now that prison is more expensive than college. The death penalty is substantially more expensive than prison and college combined. In Arizona, the Grand Canyon Institute is a private non-profit corporation that provides non-partisan research into the costs of various public policies. It is currently tabulating the cost of the death penalty in Arizona, but its conclusions won’t be substantially different from others. Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote the book “Dead Man Walking,” referenced a Florida study that showed prison costs 1/3 of the cost of the death penalty.

Let’s get back to the original three reasons to oppose death.

The death penalty is wrong.

Whether one is a Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, the good book says so. Jesus Christ said so in the Sermon on The Mount. Moses, the law giver, said so in the 6th Commandment sent to him by God, which was carved into stone. I go to church, and I’ve heard countless sermons on Sunday imploring us not to kill. So should we pull the switch on Monday? The answer is clearly no.

The death penalty is unfair.

FBI crime statistics show that of the 20,000 murders prosecuted each year, prosecutors ask for the death penalty in less than 200 cases. So it is easier to win a scratch-off lottery ticket than to be sentenced to death. Yet the odds dramatically increase if a defendant has no money, or dark skin. We put to death an inordinately high number of minority prisoners in this good country.

The death penalty doesn’t work, plain and simple.

It does not accomplish any of the things its proponents want it to accomplish, because the system of death is irreparably broken. Isaiah McCoy was released from death row this January. He lived on death row for many years for a crime he never committed. He is the 157th exoneree released in the US in the last 40 years. The last most recent exoneree in Arizona was a woman, Debra Milke. She served 22 years on death row for a crime she did not commit. I have met three Arizona men who lived on death row who did not in fact commit the crime that made us want to kill them. Ray Krone is white and middle class. He grew up going to church and playing baseball. He’s just like me. Only our state tried to kill him. He is the living example that if they can go after him, they can – and will – go after anyone. Paris Carriger and Lemuel Prion lived on death row. They were then released because they didn’t kill anyone. They are quiet, mild-mannered people. I’ve met them.

Ten people have been released from death row in Arizona so far. Other innocent people are still there, if we don’t kill them first. We kill the innocent and we kill the guilty. But not because they are heinous criminals, and not because they are “the worst of the worst.” Far from it. We kill because we can, to prove we are “tough on crime.” It helps prosecutors win reelection.

The death penalty is not justice. It is revenge. Revenge is never just. And we simply cannot afford it. Plain and simple.

– John Yoakum is a board member of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, Inc., dedicated to ending Arizona’s death penalty. The last most recent board member is former LD9 Representative Victoria Steele. The DPAA advisory board members include Sister Helen Prejean, Ray Krone, former Congressman Ron Barber, retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman, and U. of A. Law Professor Emeritus Andy Silverman.

4 criminal justice reform bills headed to AZ Legislature

legislative bill

A bipartisan coalition of groups, including The Goldwater Institute, The American Friends Service Committee and The American Civil Liberties Union have worked together to create a policy package intended to save taxpayer money, reduce recidivism, and make Arizona criminal laws more just.

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee will hear these four bills this Thursday, February 2, at 9am. The following AZ Senators sit on that Committee – contact them over the legislature’s request to speak (RTS) system, or email or call them to make your voice heard about the pressing need for criminal justice reform in Arizona.

Nancy Barto (R) – nbarto@azleg.gov; 602-926-5766
Judy Burges (R) – jburges@azleg.gov; 602-926-5861
Lupe Contreras (D)- lcontreras@azleg.gov; 602-926-5284
Andrea Dalessandro (D) – adalessandro@azleg.gov; 602-926-5342
Frank Pratt (R) – fpratt@azleg.gov; 602-926-5761
Martin Quezada (D) – mquezada@azleg.gov; 602-926-5911
Bob Worsley (R) – bworsley@azleg.gov; 602-926-5760

SB1069 / HB2291
This bill allows people to petition courts to expunge their conviction 5 years after they have been released, as long as they have not had any additional violations. This allows ex-offenders greater access to jobs, increasing the probability they will remain productive members of society.

SB1071 / HB2290
This bill allows qualified non-violent ex-offenders to obtain a temporary, provisional license to work in specialized fields and increase their probability of obtaining stable employment. It provides the person the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and commitment without increasing risks for the employer.

SB1067 / HB2154
This bill provides appropriate penalties for technical parole violations that do not interrupt the reentry and reintegration process. Keeping people with technical parole violations out of prison allows them to maintain employment and sustain contact with their families and communities. This increases the probability that they will remain productive members of society.

SB1068
This bill reduces the mandatory 85% time offenders must serve for less serious, non-violent offenses. If a person is determined rehabilitated prior to that 85% mark, they would be released to community supervision so that they may obtain employment and become productive taxpayers.

County Attorney LaWall refuses to participate in county’s highest level justice council

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

For more than two years Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has refused to participate in meetings of the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council (JCC).

Founded in 2006 and reestablished in 2014, the County Administrator created the JCC to serve as a policy level forum for discussing the operations of the Pima County criminal justice system, and addressing systemic issues of mutual concern to Pima County’s many law and justice agencies.

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memorandum creating the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

To these achieve these ends the voting membership of the JCC was originally limited to only 6 top officials, who largely dictate how the Pima County criminal justice system operates.

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The Pima Liberator has collected and reviewed the minutes of the 16 meetings of the JCC held since the Council’s reestablishment in July 2014. These minutes prove that Barbara LaWall, elected Pima County Attorney since 1997, has never attended a single meeting of the JCC.

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council meetings
June 24, 2014 – County Attorney absent
August 28, 2014 – County Attorney absent
September 25, 2014 – County Attorney absent
October 23, 2014 – County Attorney absent
December 4, 2014 – County Attorney absent
January 22, 2015 – County Attorney absent
March 26, 2015 – County Attorney absent
June 11, 2015 – County Attorney absent
September 10, 2015 – County Attorney absent
November 12, 2015 – County Attorney absent
January 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
March 24, 2016 – County Attorney absent
May 26, 2016 – County Attorney absent
July 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
October 13, 2016 – County Attorney absent
January 25, 2017 – County Attorney absent

It is important to emphasize that the County Administrator envisioned the JCC as a mechanism top County officials could utilize to make the justice system more fair, efficient, cost-effective and accountable to the taxpayers.

The Liberator attended the most recent JCC meeting, held on January 25. Among the 31 senior justice system stakeholders present were: Chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County Public Defense Services Director Lori Lefferts, Tucson City Court Presiding Magistrate Judge Tony Riojas, Pima County Public Defender Steve Sonnenberg, Pima County Legal Defender Dean Brault, and Pretrial Services Director Domingo Corona. The group discussed the progress that a number of departments and courts are making on criminal justice reform, including holding a 6th weekend warrant resolution court that quashed 600+ warrants and helped over 1,000 local residents, expanding the Pima County Sheriff’s home detention program, which has a 97% success rate and has saved the county $450,000, and replicating the success of the Tucson City Mental Health Court, which has become a state-wide model of restorative justice for defendants with mental illness. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, absent from this meeting like she has been from every other  JCC meeting, choose not to participate in any of these discussions.

It is true that elected officials have demanding jobs, which often require their attention in multiple places simultaneously. But missing every single meeting of our justice system’s highest-level policy body is more than a simple scheduling conflict. Because the County Attorney has tremendous power and statutory discretion to drive rates of indictment, imprisonment, and incarceration, any meaningful criminal justice reform proposal requires Ms. LaWall’s personal buy-in and cooperation. Ms. LaWall’s perfect record of absenteeism from the JCC demonstrates that she has little interest in how other stakeholders in the justice system believe it can be improved, and little drive to cooperate with those stakeholders to make our system more fair and cost-effective.

– Joel Feinman