The MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge awards Ada County $1 million for reduction of jail population

After years of working on a plan to reduce Ada County’s Jail population by 15%-to-19%, we are thrilled to finally be able to put our plan in action — thanks to the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

The Foundation has awarded Ada County $1 million to help us realize our vision. MacArthur’s incredible gift is most welcome, as it will help us increase our staffing across Ada County’s justice system to make a real difference.

It’s been three years since the MacArthur Foundation selected Ada County as a finalist for its Safety and Justice Challenge.

Since then we’ve been hard at work to create a sustainable plan to reduce Ada County’s jail population and to promote social justice.

Our answer to the challenge is to make needed changes to Ada County’s justice system – and to add eight more people in key positions, including more inmate case managers and court clerks — to make that happen.

You may remember our previous application to the MacArthur Foundation in 2016 asked for $3.9 million, most of which would have gone to the creation of a Community Safety Center to provide services for people in crisis — like those suffering from mental illness or struggling with substance abuse — who now often find themselves in jail for lack of any other options.

We decided that plan duplicated efforts by the State of Idaho, which is opening the Pathways Community Crisis Center in Boise in December.

The new center, which will be located less than a mile away from the ACSO at 7192 Potomac Drive, will provide assessment, treatment, and referrals for people who are experiencing a crisis related to mental health or substance abuse disorders.

We will work closely with the state and our local health and public safety agencies to use that facility once it gets built and staffed.

The new facility allows us to concentrate on structural fixes to the local court system — like options to the traditional cash-based bond system.

If you have access to money, you can pay a bond and be released from jail while a criminal case moves through the court system. That doesn’t really work for people on limited incomes.

So we’ve made some moves already to improve.

One temporary change that went into effect June 1 in Ada County is that anyone arrested on driving without privileges (1st-to-3rd offense) or failure to obtain, maintain, and provide proof of insurance will be released on their own recognizance (ROR) instead of having to post a cash bond. The Idaho Supreme Court approved this as a pilot project. We are hoping success in Ada County will result in this becoming law.

So far 32 people have avoided any jail time. Statistics show that most people who charged with DWP or failure to obtain insurance charges are also booked on other charges that don’t allow ROR. So we are working to figure out if there are other changes we can make to expand ROR release.

Ada County’s public defenders and city/county prosecutors are now doing “jail sweeps” to identify people stuck in jail with low-level misdemeanor charges who can’t afford bond. They work closely with those inmates to resolve those cases and get them out of jail.

We’ve created new office space and public defender/inmate meeting rooms inside the jail and set up a new videoconference room to make case processing more efficient.

A major contributor to jail population is when people who are charged with a misdemeanor and fail to show up for court get arrested on Failure to Appear (FTA) charges. This can create an arrest cycle that is hard to break.

We surveyed people charged with FTA and found that 50% said they just didn’t know or forgot about their scheduled court date; 24% cited transportation issues; 8% said they had work or childcare conflicts.

Our plan combats this phenomenon is the creation of the notification system that will allow the Ada County Clerk of Court staff to send out alerts – including text, email, and phone calls — about upcoming court dates; a new unit at the Public Defender’s Office to help clients navigate the court system and attend their hearings; and increased access to public transportation.

We are also working on reducing current disparities for Native and African American inmates in our jail.

Ada County’s population is 85.3% white, non-Hispanic individuals, with 2.5% African-American and .2% Native-American populations. The jail population for African-Americans is 2.9% and .4% for Native-Americans.

Ada County law enforcement agencies will work to reduce this rate through education, training, and a renewed focus on community policing in our minority communities.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office is mandating implicit bias training for all employees and has selected three employees to become trainers, who will create specific lesson plans for commissioned and civilian employees.

We are also proposing Idaho’s Peace Officer Standards and Training — which certifies all law enforcement officers in the state — to make implicit bias training part of their curriculum.

The MacArthur award of $1 million will pay for eight new jobs. Those include:

* Two public defender case managers to work closely with inmates to help them understand the court system and help them get to hearings.

* An additional pretrial release case manager (to join the current staff of six) to do risk assessments on everybody arrested in Ada County and provide recommendations for judges – and one pretrial release records technician for clerical support.

* Two court clerks who will oversee the text message notification system.

* A planning analyst who will continue to work on jail reduction strategies and identify solutions as our plan evolves.

* A Safety and Justice Program manager to make sure all our strategies are implemented and to work with the State of Idaho on the implementation of the Behavioral Health Community Crisis Center.

For more information on the Safety and Justice Challenge, visit http://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/

 

 

 

 

 

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