Arizona County District Attorney Stops Prosecution of Certain Drug Charges Amid Plan to Reduce Prison Population


Arizona County Prosecutor stays prosecution on some drug charges after the county administrator said prison population may need to be reduced due to new policy requiring prison guards to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The policy change was announced Tuesday by Pima County Prosecutor Laura Conover, who noted that his office would refuse to prosecute those arrested for “simple possession of drugs, paraphernalia or incidents of personal use”. Those arrested on a drug charge and a felony will, however, be prosecuted.

Conover said the change is being made to protect the health of people at the Pima County Jail. She told county law enforcement officers to “divert people to drug treatment,” noting that there is a drug treatment center near the Pima County Detention Center.

The policy will be revised in 60 days, according to Conover.

Former Pima County District Attorney Barbara LaWall adopted a similar policy in March 2020.


Pima County Sheriff’s Department badge. (Pima County Sheriff’s Department)

Joe Watson, communications director for the Pima County District Attorney’s Office, told Fox News the decision was not made due to the vaccination requirement.

“It was a decision taken exclusively to protect both the people who work and are detained inside the prison, as well as to protect the community that prison workers return to after each shift. We would be happy if this policy mitigates the impact of the loss of prison. employees on Jan. 1, but that’s not why the Conover County District Attorney made this decision, ”Watson said.

Mike Dominguez, president of the Pima County Sheriff’s Labor Association, told Fox News that while he was happy the policy was revised in 60 days, individuals are now “not held accountable” because of the vaccine mandate for Pima County employees working with vulnerable people. populations.

“Individuals who break the laws are not held accountable because this vaccination mandate is the ultimate conclusion here,” Dominguez said. “I hope this idea does not give people who are still technically breaking a law the right to say that these people feel emboldened to commit other crimes because of the lack of prosecution for these offenses.”

The policy changes come after the Pima County Supervisory Board voted on November 2 to approve a vaccine requirement for county employees who work with vulnerable populations, including correctional officers who are employed in county jails.

As per the approved requirement, the deadline for employees who work with vulnerable populations to be vaccinated is January 1, or their employment will be terminated.


A Jan. 6 memorandum from Jan Lesher, the county’s deputy chief administrator, says if there is still a substantial number of unvaccinated correctional officers by Jan. 1, the prison population will need to be “reduced” .

“Currently, we have a substantial number of correctional officers who work in the Pima County Adult Detention Center, and therefore are subject to this vaccine requirement, who are not fully vaccinated. January, there might be fewer agent corrections, which may result in the need to reduce the [Pima County Adult Detention Center] population, ”Lesher wrote.

Pima County Adult Detention Center

Pima County Adult Detention Center
((Pima County Sheriff’s Department))

County supervisor Rex Scott said while the number of unvaccinated correctional officers is on the rise, a number of non-violent people may need to be released from county jails.

“If it turns out that the current inmates at the prison are going to be released, they are non-violent and non-dangerous people who are mainly there because they violated their probation,” Scott said.

If necessary, releases will be handled “on a case-by-case basis” and will be monitored by the sheriff, county attorney, public defender services and probation officers.

Pima County Sheriff's Department.

Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
(Credit: Pima County Sheriff’s Department)


In a separate memorandum On December 13, Lesher said that several departments of the justice system met to discuss potential strategies to “safely reduce” the prison population and reduce the number of people incarcerated.

“The group looked at data provided by the Sheriff’s Department showing more than 500 inmates awaiting trial who are classified as non-violent / non-dangerous. Often these inmates would have already been released if they could pay the required bail. In addition, more than 100 non-violent / non-dangerous inmates have been sentenced to prison for minor offenses and probation violations, and some of these inmates could be considered for modified sentences, ”the memorandum said.

The memorandum said any release would have to be approved by the county prosecutor and public defense services. According to the memorandum, judges of the Pima County Superior Court make the final decision on the releases.


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