Crime Trackers: Vicious Cycle - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Crime Trackers: Vicious Cycle

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According to jail officials, more than half of the inmates at the Pima County Jail are homeless or mentally ill.

“We are the largest mental health hospital around here,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. 

“We are fulfilling our constitutional commitment to provide medical care to provide mental health care,” said Capt. Sean Stewart, who is in charge of housing at the jail.

Across the nation, jails are filling the gap for the homeless and the mentally ill. 

Currently, the Pima County Jail has nearly 2,000 inmates. 1-S is the unit where those who are severely mentally ill and suicidal are separately housed.

On this day, there were 31 inmates. There were 10 men and 21 women housed, just a fraction of the overall population.  More than half of which are here simply because they can not post bond.

“If you have assets or money you can bond out," said Stewart. "If you are poor, whether your are homeless or mentally ill, it doesn't matter if they put a $50  bond on you. They don't have $50.  So they're not going to bond out.”

Stewart said there are some who should be in jail, people who have committed violent crimes and are a threat to themselves and the public. 

A recent case points out the inequities.  

“The whole concept of jail is to protect the community," said Stewart. "I don't think the community needs protection from a little old lady who is mentally ill and stole a candy bar, and stays here for two or three months.”

During that same time period, a man who was shooting at police was arrested and bonded out the next day.

“I think the community needs protection from someone who is out committing violent crime,” said Stewart.  

Keeping those that can not bond out ends up costing taxpayers more money, at a rate of $85 a day.

“I guess if they were paying for it and we solved it and we cured mental illness, okay," said Nanos. "That's not what's happening.”

What is happening is once the inmates are booked, they are given medication and are closely monitored. Once they leave, it is a different story.

“I can tell you it's a revolving door," said Stewart. "We release them stable. Five, 10, 15 days later, they're back in booking again on some new charge, usually failure to appear.”

Nanos would like to see the money spent at the jail go towards a mental health facility, where those in need can get treatment.

Stewart predicts within the next three months, the Pima County Jail will be at capacity. Tensions will be rising, making it extremely stressful for both the corrections officers and the inmates.

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