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Guest Column: Extend the Jail District Tax; jail programs are working

A county jail is a pivotal component of the criminal justice system. In Coconino County, the jail is not just a place where we put people who break the law. Our jail is a modern facility where people can get the help they need. They can learn how to heal from a difficult past, enroll in programs to find a way out of the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and get a glimpse of what life away from jail can look like. Our jail offers hope and sets people up for a better future through programs and facilities funded through the Jail District Sales Tax.

Coconino County is focused on healing and equipping inmates – members of our community – with tools to help them recover from unhealthy habits, cope with anger, communicate more effectively, become better parents and find positive ways to express themselves. We also offer job training and education, making valuable use of time spent in custody.

In addition, many people find comfort and guidance through spiritual practices. We believe it’s critically important and grounding for people to have access to their traditional and religious practices. We have chaplain visits and hold bible study classes. We have built a hogan for important cultural rituals, and a sweat lodge, which many Native cultures use for cleansing ceremonies.

A shining example of the difference in-jail programs can make is EXODUS, a multi-faceted substance abuse program. Jail participants have been enrolling in EXODUS since 2007. More than 1,600 people have experienced it and the success is measurable. Goals of the program are to:

• Reduce the impact of substance abuse on the community.

• Enhance inmates’ ability to facilitate change in their lives.

• Reduce recidivism and jail crowding.

• Provide educational services to inmates to help them maintain a life of recovery from addiction.

We have witnessed great progress through jail programs and the financially secure, safe and effective County Jail. Since the half-cent Jail District Sales Tax has been in effect, there has been a decrease in the impact of substance abuse-related crime on county communities, numerous inmate success stories, an overall reduction in the jail population and a decline in the number of people returning to jail.

Those of us in the County Criminal Justice System believe a major contributing factor to the decline in recidivism – the number of inmates returning to jail – is the continued success of EXODUS. National statistics report that 70% of those in jail return to jail in places where there is no in-custody drug and alcohol abuse program. However, EXODUS has been a game-changer. In Coconino County, only 30% or fewer of those who have participated in the program return to jail.

Also, funds generated from the Jail Sales Tax have been paying most of the jail operating expenses, about 86%, which includes maintenance, renovations, food, medical care and staffing. Without the financial support of the tax, paid by both visitors and residents, the county would have to find $22 million a year to cover the jail costs and the powerful programs we have now. This could mean a decrease in budgets for other county programs such as those that support public safety and health, and most likely would mean fewer jail programs. In addition, our cities and towns would probably have to raise taxes to cover their portion.

Proposition 445 on the General Election ballot asks voters to extend the half-cent Jail District Sales Tax by 25 years. That’s 50 cents on $100 purchases of goods and services. The question is:

Shall the Coconino County Jail District Board of Directors be authorized to extend the term of the existing County Jail District Excise Tax (sales tax), of one half-cent ($.005) by twenty-five years?

To find out more about Proposition 445, visit www.coconino.az.gov/jailtax for the Jail District Sales Tax Publicity Pamphlet, which includes letters from county residents, Frequently Asked Questions and locations for assigned polling places. The county also is hosting Town Hall public meetings scheduled for Friday, Oct. 28 and Wednesday, Nov. 2. They will be streamed live via Zoom at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/81000010416 and on the Coconino County YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/coconinocnty

The last day to request an early ballot by mail is Friday, Oct. 28. The last day to vote early in person is Friday, Nov. 4. And, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 8.

For more information, contact the Coconino County Elections Office at (928) 679-7860 or visit.www.coconino.az.gov/elections

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