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Jail Diversion and Justice

Post arrest, pre-trial, people arrested for non-violent offenses who cannot afford bond too often find themselves waiting for their trial date in the county jail. This comes at a tremendous cost to themselves and the County. Beyond the obvious inherent injustice of this scenario – a person who can post bond leaves jail and goes to work the next day while awaiting trial, and a low-income person stays in jail, and loses their income from work, further jeopardizing an already vulnerable household – this system also costs us a lot of money.

We spend $108-a-day to incarcerate someone in the jail awaiting trial. Law enforcement professionals should have at their disposal all the tools needed to monitor people arrested for non-violent offenses – at home - while they await trial. These tools cost little, can be self-pay, (at-home alcohol monitoring, GPS ankle bracelets, etc.) and provide law enforcement with essential data. This would allow people to maintain their lives, ahead of trial, and save the county money.

Many agencies and individuals have been working on these issues for a long time. The Jail Diversion Master Plan has been lauded as a thoroughly-researched and clearly crafted road map. The county has taken some great steps, but now needs to show more leadership, model collaboration and begin to design solutions accordingly.

A great percentage of those arrested suffer from addiction and mental health issues. Law enforcement needs access to 24/7 resources to handle people in mental health crisis. Neither the ER, nor the jail, is equipped to help people out of crisis and back to stability. We need a facility with tools and staff dedicated to this population. Additionally, among misdemeanor arrests, we see a great percentage of low-income repeat offenders, who suffer from addiction.

Because we do not have low-cost, readily available treatment for people who suffer from addiction, we have serial misdemeanor offenders. We need to re-orient our system to help break this cycle of addiction and misdemeanor arrest. Beyond the cost to the justice system, we all shoulder the cost of lost human potential due to addiction. As with all complex problems, partnerships are the answer. We need to bring together professionals across the disciplines and jointly, cooperatively, craft a solution, first looking at resources we already have, then moving forward.

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