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Examining the Impacts of Arrest Deflection Strategies on Jail Reduction Efforts in Pima County, AZ

Shannon Magnuson, Amy Dezember, Brian Lovins, Christina Sansone, Jen Lerch

Reducing jail populations and the collateral consequences of the legal system requires jurisdictions to critically examine the practices bringing these populations through the criminal legal system’s front door. It requires implementing opportunities to reduce reliance on citation or arrest/booking, especially for populations with severe mental health disorders (SMHD), while also providing individuals the help and referrals they need to be well. Police-led deflection accomplishes both goals.

Deflection allows police discretion to replace arrest with outreach to community-based service providers and eliminates involvement in the legal system altogether. Importantly, as police agencies expand deflection programs to more consistently align with treatment engagement literature and the process of recovery, this will include consistent opportunities for deflection – even to people who were previously deflected. This transforms police contacts and traditional stops leading to arrest into opportunities to broker services. Understanding how deflection programs work in practice and how police make decisions about who to triage out of the legal system is key to improving and expanding these programs, reducing jail populations, improving access to care, and helping individuals get the help they need.

The goal of this research is to understand how deflection of individuals with SMHD/SUD operates in Pima County, AZ. In 2011, the county opened the Crisis Response Center (CRC), providing police access to emergency psychiatric and substance use services. Specifically, the CRC offers case management, individual and group therapies, peer supports, and medication education and management. The CRC is open 24/7 allowing officers a true alternative to jail as the primary mechanism for treatment and support for these populations any time of day. As such this work focuses on the CRC and its impact on reducing the jail population via police-led deflection.

There are two primary research questions driving this work:

(1) How does deflection to the CRC predict continued access to the CRC and exit from the criminal legal system, impacting jail reduction efforts, and

(2) How do police make decisions about who and when to deflect individuals to community services broadly and to the CRC, specifically?