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Crisis declared over adult probation officer staffing in 8 AZ counties

The Arizona Supreme Court has declared a crisis over a lack of adult probation officers.

Eight counties don’t have enough to keep caseload volume below a cap set by state law.

A similar situation in 2002 resulted in judges sentencing more people to prison.

The Arizona Supreme Court writes that hiring probation officers is highly competitive. Low starting salaries and soaring housing costs make recruiting and retaining difficult in places such as Pima County.

Louis Fidel, a criminal defense attorney with the Tucson-based firm Piccarreta Davis Keenan Fidel, said people getting sent to prison because there aren’t enough probation officers would raise alarms.

“And that decision is just a life-altering one. Not only for the person being sent to prison, but for their whole family. I mean there are enormous ripple effects,” he said.

Caseload volumes are also over the limit in Apache, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Navajo, Yavapai and Yuma counties.

The Supreme Court gave a list of orders for local judges to confront the staffing crisis. It includes getting county boards of supervisors to offer competitive salaries.

“The vast majority of people who come through the criminal justice system do not need to be in prison and society does not benefit from them being in prison,” said Fidel.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.