In 1999, incarcerated criminal misdemeanor defendants identified as being mentally ill served on the average 22 days in custody for their offense. Defendants not so identified spent, on the average, 3 days for similar offenses. The causes for this inequity are many, but the solution has been the creation of a specialized Court, the Mental Health Division. Following arraignment, identified defendants are referred to Video Review Hearings where the Court, attorneys from the offices of Prosecution and Defense and mental health professionals determine conditions of release which will guarantee public safety, reintegration into mental health treatment and reappearance of defendants and subsequent court hearings. These hearings have had a substantial effect on the length of incarceration prior to case resolution, reducing a mentally ill defendant’s average jail stay to 8 days in 2003.
The Division has also created sentencing alternatives that reduce jail sentences following conviction or plea to certain offenses. A 3rd or subsequent conviction of Tucson City Code Section 11-28, Committing or Offering to Commit an act of Prostitution, mandates a minimum 180-day jail sentence. Statistics maintained by the Division, show that this penalty is ineffective in deterring subsequent offenses by mentally ill or substance abusing defendants. Some defendants completing such a sentence are re-arrested within hours of their release from jail. A six-month jail sentence which does not discourage the offense which it punishes and which is very expensive (such a stay costs Tucson taxpayers nearly $10,000), is poor public policy and a poor use of public funds. The Division has worked with defendants and in-patient treatment agencies to provide an alternative to such jail sentences. Approved defendants are allowed to plead to a single count of Prostitution, which requires only a 15-day jail sentence. They are then eligible for release into in-patient treatment for a minimum of 6 months paid for through state ACCHS or federal Title XIX funds. Defendants who leave their facility or do not follow the requirements of treatment, are subject to returning to the jail for the remainder of their six month sentence. Mental health and substance abuse treatment is more likely to address the causes for this offense than jail. It is a cost-effective and humane means of reducing criminality in our community.
Participation in the Mental Health Division’s Diversion program has also reduced the occurrence of new offenses and additional days spent in jail by mentally ill defendants. 90% of defendants entering Diversion successfully complete the Program by continuing their mental health treatment plan and avoiding additional criminal charges.