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Pima County launches effort to reduce number of inmates

TUCSON – Pima County recently hired a jail population coordinator to reduce the number of inmates.

The idea is to release inmates who are in jail for non-violent offenses. News 4 Tucson asked if it is safe to let them out, back into society.

It costs about $100 a day to house an inmate in Pima County Jail.

“Some of these people and we’ve looked at a number of defendants who have been in long periods of time and it can add up,” said Wendy Petersen, Assistant County Administrator.

Petersen says they if can get some of these people who do not need to be in jail out, it will save taxpayer dollars.

Inmates with non-violent, low-level charges who can safely be released can continue working and engaging in society.

“Somebody who is sitting in jail for many, many months on a low-level charge really does a disservice to our community to not have that person working, paying taxes, and supporting their families,” Petersen said.

News 4 Tucson talked with Corrections Lieutenant Elsa Navarro who has been working in the jail for 14 years. She says lowering the inmate population would not decrease the number of officers in the jail. It would just relieve some of the pressure.

“The amounts of inmates, reducing, that would be great,” said Lt. Navarro. “However we still need the same amount of staff to run this facility. It’s not going to reduce too much on what we need. And right now it’s important for us to get as many COs into our facility and working for us helping reduce the stress and anxiety that the other officers feel because there’s so much going on.”

On average, there are about 1,800 inmates in Pima County Jail. The maximum number of inmates is around 2,300. Petersen says the goal is to get down to 1,574.

With this new population coordinator, they now have a plan to keep the numbers down, which will reduce costs.

The population coordinator is Mike Steber and he has worked in Pima County Jail as a corrections officer for many years.

“My job is to not only make Pima County a safer place but to also ensure that we are spending taxpayer funds appropriately,” said Sheriff Mark Napier.  “Part of achieving both is ensuring that the right people are incarcerated in our jail for the right reasons.  This will reduce costs and keep our county safer.”

Once Steber starts, he will review the jail’s roster and case management system. He will look for individuals incarcerated for non-violent offenses, who corrections officials believe, once released, will be unlikely to miss scheduled court appearances.

Associated Press

Associated Press

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