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FLORENCE — The Pinal County Attorney’s Office has won a three-year federal grant of more than $1.2 million to expand the office’s pretrial diversion program.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said the program offers a chance for otherwise good people who’ve made a mistake to make amends for their offense and learn from it without being saddled with a criminal record. “They need a kick in the pants, not a criminal conviction,” Volkmer told the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. The supervisors voted Oct. 23 to accept the grant.

Volkmer said that when he first took office in 2017, he went to Pima County to see its pretrial diversion program, “and quite frankly I walked away a little bit ashamed, because my office didn’t have anything even close to that.”

He and his staff have been working ever since to make Pinal County’s program better, he said, with the help of county and state support.

In 2012, there were seven people in Pinal County’s pretrial diversion program. “Last year we were just short of 650 people,” Volkmer told the supervisors. This year, 19% of misdemeanors and 3.5% of felonies went through pretrial diversion, and Volkmer hopes to achieve 5% of felonies in the program.

Standing in the way, he said, is “there’s only so many people my diversion team can actually handle.” His current staff is already working late hours and can’t provide the level of service needed, he said. “At some point you have to cut corners and you can’t give (the clients) the individualized attention they need.”

The program can include many services, such as mental health, substance abuse education and treatment, parenting classes and other education, anger management, vocational rehabilitation and financial education, Volkmer said.

Teresa Fuller, head of Pinal County pretrial diversion, found the grant, Volkmer said. The U.S. Justice Department grant will fund the creation of three new diversion officer positions, two of which will be senior positions. The grant requires Pinal County to pay a total of $6,000 per year for the three new employees.

The grant also requires the county to partner with Arizona State University and others to assess the success rate of clients staying out of trouble after completing the program. The three-year grant has the potential of being renewed for two more years, Volkmer told the board.

The program also includes iTether, allowing clients to keep some appointments by smartphone rather than having to miss work or obtain child care to travel to Florence.

“We are one of the first in the country from a law enforcement perspective to try this iTether program, and we’re incredibly excited about that,” Volkmer said.

Supervisors Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, thanked Volkmer. “This is just an added value to the citizens in our county. I commend you guys, and our sheriff’s department, for what you’re doing in trying to be ahead of the game and look at preventative ways that we can help solve our issues,” Goodman said.

In other business Oct. 23:

  • The board approved a request from County Manager Louis Andersen to reactivate a vacant position and hire a communications and marketing director. The hire can be done with current funding, Andersen told the board. Supervisor Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, asked Andersen to also study how other counties accomplish their communications and marketing.
  • The board approved another request by Andersen to reactivate another vacant position and hire a second deputy county manager. This hire can also be done with no additional budget request, he said. Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said it was “eye-opening” during the county manager hiring process to see how many departments were under the manager and one assistant manager. “I fully support this move,” Miller said.
  • Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, asked for a work session in the near future on a problem in San Manuel. Representatives of 4-H have said they’re not allowed to keep chickens at home for educational purposes because of their local zoning. Rios said most incorporated cities do allow a limited number of chickens for noncommercial purposes.
  • The board recommended in favor of a new liquor license for Golder Ranch Wines near the Pinal-Pima county line.
  • The board approved a request from the Family Services of Conciliation Court to use a vacant position to create a new case coordinator position. This position will help with the increase in walk-in clients since the office’s relocation to Superior Court. There will be no impact to the county’s General Fund.
  • The board approved an agreement with the Arizona Public Service Co. Solar Communities Program to install a solar system at the Pinal County Justice Complex on Jason Lopez Circle. APS will also install light fixtures in the parking structure. Electricity generated will be delivered to the APS grid. Pinal County will receive $2,017 per month, and there is no cost to the county.

Roberto Reveles of Gold Canyon asked if other county properties were also being considered for this program. Archie Carreon, Pinal County director of facilities management, said the county has applied to have the program in other areas. He said the county applied for the entire Justice Complex, and received approval for half.

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