Many probation departments in Arizona are little more than a collection agency for restitution and fees; tent city is for people who can't keep up with that already. Now we're planning to fast-track people to jail or prison for positive drops, no matter how petty their original conviction was. They could do more time for violating their probation than they might have had they just taken a jail sentence in the beginning. I think I'd rather do flat time in prison and live free again than be under that kind of surveillance and threat.
Much more needs to be done with Arizona's probation departments and courts than jailing the people they fail. This just looks to me like another way to feed more non-violent offenders to for-profit prisons. Then Fischer at the ADC can lump these chronic addicts with the violent ones in more reports and call that category "violent or repeat criminals" (a category which presently constitutes some 94% of Arizona state prisoners - doesn't that sound scary? Makes you want to keep them all behind bars, doesn't it?). That's a way to create gross misrepresentations of their population, and they know it. It's the only way they can justify their outrageous budget and projected growth (while prison systems around the country are projecting a decrease in the use of incarceration, instead).
Hawaii was trying to keep people out of prison for addiction by applying swift sanctions while also providing treatment. Arizona just seems to want to expedite the incarceration process for people whose original crimes only warranted community supervision. We won't be getting the same rosy outcome as our island neighbors did; we will instead help fill Globe's new medium-security prison with now-dangerous "repeat-offender" junkies and potheads.
Probationers on drugs to wind up in jail - fast
In one way, at least, it's good to be a drug addict on probation in Arizona.
Probationers are typically allowed to test positive for drugs multiple times before they are finally hauled into court.
If they own up to violating this rule or that rule, and ask the court for a second or a third chance, they have every reason to expect those prayers will be answered.
Not anymore. Starting this fall, punishment will be swift and certain for those selected to participate in Project SAFE, or Swift Accountable Fair Enforcement. Use drugs on probation, and go straight to jail.
Six years ago, officials in Hawaii grew tired of people on probation missing drug-testing appointments, using drugs or absconding, so they developed HOPE, or Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement.
One year after starting the program, they saw HOPE participants were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, 61 percent less likely to skip appointments with their probation officers and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked.
It works like this: Probation officers identify people struggling with substance abuse and recommend them for the program. If the judge agrees, he or she "banks" 30 days of jail time for the probationer at sentencing.
If the probationer later tests positive for drugs, the judge immediately sends the offender to jail for two days. If offenders continue to use drugs, their days in jail increase each time. And if they continue to test positive, their probation is revoked and they are sent to prison.
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch was so impressed with HOPE she asked judges around the state to look into implementing a similar program.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Terry Chandler has been working with prosecutors, public defenders, jail staff and the probation department for months to create Project SAFE.
It's expected to launch in October.
It's sometimes difficult to get people on probation to follow all the rules, but HOPE proves that if they know in advance what the judge is going to do, they'll make the right choice, Chandler said.
"HOPE showed that if you give swift and consistent consequences to drug use, you have a more positive result" than if you allow their probation violations to pile up, Chandler said.
David Sanders, chief adult probation officer for Pima County, said studies have shown that it's the punishment, not the length, that impacts people.
"The research shows that they get as much from a couple of days in jail as they do from a couple of months," Sanders said.
That being the case, a probationer with a job will likely be allowed to spend weekends in jail, Sanders said.
Pima County Public Defender Robert Hirsh is excited to see how the program works out.
"I hope the results are as favorable as those in Hawaii," Hirsh said. "In Hawaii they had fewer revocations and fewer new cases. It seems to have been successful in helping people get their lives together."
At the end of the year, officials will look at the results and decide if the program should be continued and possibly expanded, Chandler said.
Since the vast majority of crimes are committed by people using drugs or alcohol, the potential benefits are significant, Chandler said.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org