Reform with Few Results: Pima County can’t prove criminal justice reform is working

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) – Is Pima County spinning its wheels with criminal justice reform?

That’s what some critical leaders believe, including Sheriff Chris Nanos.

The county continues to struggle with its decade-long reform effort and that’s jeopardizing safety at a cost to taxpayers.

The sheriff believes the reform effort is not where leaders expected it to be.

We’ve reported the county needed to drop the inmate population by about a thousand to avoid building a new jail.

County leaders put a reform plan in motion, but a decade later, there’s been little progress.

So what happened? Why hasn’t the full plan worked?

13 News Investigates some answers through information we’ve obtained from the MacArthur Foundation.

The Pima County Jail had been bursting at the seams when the MacArthur Foundation sent its people to take a tour.

The private foundation had just launched its nationwide Safety and Justice Challenge to reduce over-incarceration.

Sheriff Chris Nanos described their reaction.

“They were very excited and wanted us to be a big part of this competitive grant,” he said.

The county had come up with six strategies to make it happen.

  1. Pre-arrest deflection
  2. Expanded pre-trial services
  3. Improved probation practices
  4. Jail Population Review
  5. Steps diversion program
  6. Community engagement

The foundation described them as “ambitious goals.”

Pima County nailed the grant, and funding totaled millions of dollars. Still, when the MacArthur Foundation checked on the progress, Nanos told 13 News investigates email exchanges he’s seen with the county revealed the foundation was disappointed.

“I think they saw the same thing I saw that their efforts were a bit abysmal and said these aren’t the promises you made. We are not meeting their expectations,” Nanos said.

So were the county’s goals too ambitious to carry out?

That’s indicated in an email response from the Foundation after 13 News Investigates reached out to them.

The Director of Criminal Justice wrote that while Pima County has had some success, the foundation asked the leaders to “narrow the scope of their efforts to the most critical elements.”

And pointed to the county’s “struggle with data collection” as a critical issue.

In a 2021 letter to the county administrator, the foundation wrote that the county needed to “conduct a more detailed analysis to understand its performance data and assess what strategies had the most impact.”

“They’re 100 percent right,” said Kate Vesely, who is now in charge of the Pima County Justice Services department, which is formerly the criminal justice reform unit.

“We have really struggled around data. Most of the systems that we are using to track people who are in the justice system were develop decades ago,” said Nanos.

She does acknowledge the reform effort so far has not measured up to the expectations after a decade’s worth of work.

“I don’t think I would necessarily say that just because the way things are right now means that it’s unsuccessful. It just means the work’s not done,” said Vesely.

But the sheriff says the reaction he’s seen from some of the critical players frustrated him.

Nanos said, “All I saw was patting each other on the back. I didn’t see any real reform.”

The jail population, he argued, is climbing.

Vesely acknowledges it’s difficult to prove what’s working.

“We have to be holding ourselves accountable that we might have a lot of resources, we might have a lot of support,” said Vesely, “but do we have the data to be able to prove that whatever is occurring is actually effective.”

Be sure to subscribe to the 13 News YouTube channel:


Sign up to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Sign up today to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site be sure to check out more of their content.