Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arizona Prison Turns Away Prisoners

A Prison Term Doesn't Mean Prison Time in Some Arizona Counties

If crime is your bag and prison isn’t—Maricopa County, Arizona is the place for you. So far this year, nearly 16,000 offenders have successfully surrendered to serve jail time in Maricopa County.

But not everyone makes the cut. There were 1,453 instances of rejection in that same period, a majority for medical reasons. Rejection means, although an offender has been sentenced to prison the prison staff will not let the offender enter the prison. That’s right, the judge says go to jail, the warden says not my prison and the offender walks.

The issue causes headaches for city courts, which must come up with ways for offenders to carry out their sentences.

Lt. Brian Lee, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told the Arizona Republic that incomplete paperwork is a tough issue to resolve during weekends and late nights, when the courts are closed. "Our intake staff can't guess what the (court) order might mean," he said.

When it comes to medical conditions, Lee said, the Sheriff's Office has the ability to "make reasonable accommodations."

Those turned away after medical evaluations are "rare instances where people had skyrocketing blood pressure or someone detoxing off of alcohol or drugs," Lee told the Republic.

County medical staff determines "whether a person is not physically worthy of jail, because once in, they become our liability," Lee said. The County doesn’t flip the bill, but taxpayers pay one way or the other. They may save on the medical costs, but 1,453 offenders are walking the streets of Maricopa County who would have otherwise been in prison.

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