PIMA COUNTY, ARIZONA – The Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday a Community Bond Program (CBP) in which Pima County would contract with a nonprofit agency to help reduce the population in the county jail.
The funds for the bonds would be for individuals who have a bond set of $30,000 or less and are not facing homicide, sex or child exploitation charges, and who do not have any kind of hold on them from another jurisdiction.
The participant would agree to abide by the conditions of release recommended by Pretrial Services, including being held to the same level of supervision.
“Our present system criminalizes poverty,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said while discussing the proposal, which passed on a 3-2 vote.
“We basically confine a lot of folks for very minor crimes for sometimes weeks at a time on a $500 bond that they cannot pay. The level of crime that they commit is one that is not a danger to themselves or the community. For too long, we have had a system that kept people confined in jail because they were impoverished.”
Dean Brault, the director of Pima County Public Defense Services, prepared a whitepaper on the bond project and it was submitted to the Board of Supervisors on August 24, 2020.
His analysis of local data from 2017 determined that the program would have saved 33,497 bed days that year. Using that number, that translates into a savings of about $3.3 million annually in taxpayer money by reducing the jail population, which is also a goal due to COVID-19 health issues.
“The whitepaper I did showed the average person who had a release recommendation was being held for an average of one day under seven weeks. And that shocked me,” Brault said.
If held for several weeks because of the inability to post bond, individuals might lose their employment, vehicle, housing or custody of children.
“Lots of bad things happen to people when they are in custody and they can’t get out because they don’t have the money for it,” Brault said. “This program is designed to get everybody out who we clearly think should be out, and to do that quickly so they get back to their families, get back to their jobs and have their lives be stabilized.”
Brault’s whitepaper showed that just over 1 percent of the cases of people who would have been in this program ended up being incarcerated in a state prison.
According to the proposal, the operational plan for the bond project includes contracting with a nonprofit group, which would most likely create a sub-entity that would act as the community bonding agency. Any forfeiture of bonds is returned to the County’s general fund, which makes this community bond program unique.
“There is no money that is going to be lost because of this,” Brault said. “This is the first program of its kind where it is entirely funded by a county or a government, and that government is not at risk of losing any of those funds.”
Huckelberry, in a memorandum to the Board of Supervisors, notes that while the county’s Criminal Justice Reform Unit has ranked the elimination of cash bail or bonding as one its top priorities, such an act is not permitted under Arizona law.
“Until that cash bond is eliminated, the CBP may be a reasonable substitute,” he wrote.