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Arizona Jails Refuse to Incarcerate Some Offenders

In 2007, Glendale, Arizona resident Robert Ortis, 41, had an appetizer and a few drinks at a business lunch. Driving from the lunch to his nephew’s house, he began to feel weak and turned red. He recognized a high blood pressure event and was able to get off the highway but collapsed in the front seat before he could get out of his car.

Paramedics were called; they told Peoria police that Ortis smelled of alcohol. That led to a DUI conviction with a mandatory jail sentence in 2008. Ever since then, Ortis has been trying to serve his sentence. The only problem is that the jail refuses to accept him as a prisoner.

Peoria is in Maricopa County; thus, as instructed by his trial judge, Ortis reported to the Lower Buckeye Jail for booking into the Maricopa County Jail (MCJ) system. That’s when the problems began.

Medical screening revealed that Ortis’ blackout had been caused by runaway high blood pressure. He still suffers from uncontrollable high blood pressure and a rare ear disease that rendered him nearly deaf. That left county authorities unwilling to book him into the jail system despite multiple attempts by Ortis to serve his sentence.

MCJ Lt. Brian Lee said county medical staff determine “whether a person is not physically worthy of jail, because once in, they become our liability.” As a result, some people convicted of minor offenses are rejected at intake. Lee said the Sheriff’s Office may “make reasonable accommodations” for medical conditions, and people are rejected only when supported by medical evaluations. This includes “rare instances where people had skyrocketing blood pressure or someone detoxing off of alcohol or drugs.” Serious offenders are booked into the jail system regardless of their medical condition.

Phoenix’s top prosecutor, Aarón J. Carreón-Aínsa, said jail rejections are not a big problem but can occur for medical reasons, when court paperwork is incomplete or when a defendant shows up late or doesn’t have government-issued photo ID. Rejections made up almost 10% of the offenders who surrendered themselves at the MCJ in 2010, for example.

Peoria City Attorney Steve Kemp would like to see home detention with electronic monitoring implemented in cases of jail rejections. He believes that would provide “greater accountability over defendants’ whereabouts” than simply rejecting them and sending them away. According to Kemp, it would also allow such offenders to address their medical issues at home. In other words it would save the county money that otherwise would be spent to provide medical services if those people were jailed.

Arizona cities that already use home detention for certain misdemeanor offenders include Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale, Goodyear and Surprise. Scottsdale Court Administrator Janet Cornell said home detention is a useful tool for when the jail rejects offenders due to medical conditions, though its appropriateness is determined by the court on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately home detention would not help Ortis. He asked for it during his most recent attempt to be booked into jail, but DUI carries a mandatory minimum jail term and home detention is only possible after serving a minimum amount of time in jail. Thus, despite his best efforts, he cannot complete his sentence.

“I’m just tired of getting chucked around,” he said.

Source: Arizona Republic

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