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Creating Safer Communities

This month is National County Government Month and in celebration, the National Association of Counties is recognizing “Smart Justice: Creating Safer Communities.”

Nationally, there are currently more than 13 million individuals booked into county jails annually and more than 700,000 individuals into state and federal prisons.

In Coconino County, ensuring the safety and security of our citizens is a top priority.

For that reason, millions of dollars are spent on public safety initiatives geared toward not only holding convicted criminals accountable, but to explore and implement innovative new ways to rehabilitate and counsel offenders to keep them from re-offending.

Within the County, half of the overall budget is spent on justice systems, including operating the Sheriff’s Office, county jail, County Attorney’s Office, our courts, legal and public defenders.

While many organizations have historically taken the hard-lined approach to criminal justice of incarcerating people then releasing them after their time is served, that system doesn’t get to the root of an offender’s problem. Often, offenders find themselves in the revolving door of our judicial system.

That isn’t the case in Coconino County, where we are becoming a national model for rehabilitating offenders to keep them from re-offending. Locally, data shows the felony recidivism rate – the likelihood an offender will reoffend – fell to 17.5 percent in 2012, from 33 percent in 2005. The misdemeanor rate fell to 21 percent from 36 percent in 2005.

Through a host of county programs, offenders are now less likely to re-offend, reducing costs to the system and contributing to our economy.

In Coconino County, we learned long ago that to have a positive impact on our jail population, offenders require tailored programs designed to address behavioral and psychological deficiencies.

Realizing that public safety issues are a regional problem, in 2005, more than two dozen local organizations came together to pool their resources and expertise to form the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC).

From the beginning, the CJCC was charged with addressing our increasing jail population. The founding organizations recognized that without a coordinated and collaborative effort, the County jail would continue to be the place of first resort for persons committing both major and minor criminal offenses.

Today, the CJCC is comprised of 34 Northern Arizona agencies, including county staff, county and city courts, municipalities, public defenders, probation officers, school districts and many others.

Through coordinated efforts and programs such as the Sheriff’s Office Exodus program – an in-custody program that began in 2007 and incorporates drug and alcohol treatment – recidivism rates have fallen consistently during the past seven years.

That downward trend follows a 20 percent decline in bookings into the County Detention Facility over five years. In 2007, 12,051 people were booked into jail. That dropped to 9,601 in 2012, data shows.

The County has also employed a number of specialty courts designed to address specific needs. Today, many offenders are routed through Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veteran’s Court and Integrated Family Court.

Each specialized court pairs those in the judicial system with the programs and counseling sessions they need. By utilizing such a system, we have found that crime decreases, local businesses flourish and families can live without fear.

Our courts also recently began placing non-violent offenders on home detention. Following a thorough vetting process, some offenders can serve time at home while monitored via an ankle monitor. The monitor tracks the offender via GPS and can even notify authorities if they drink alcohol.

This program is just one of many innovative tools utilized by our law enforcement community, judges and community partners to have a positive impact on crime in our communities.

In Coconino County, Smart Justice is how we do business daily. Going back to 2005, and as part of the Jail District information campaign, stakeholders asked us to consider how to stop the revolving door. We have remained committed to that objective, which we refer to as “Promises made, Promises kept.”

Our impact is real and has captured the attention of the law enforcement community and counties nationwide, which is turning to us for answers on how to protect their communities, taxpayers and keep offenders from a cycle of crime. FBN

Interim County Manager Mike Townsend is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff.


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