It may not have the same appeal as the return of the swallows to Capistrano, but Gila County officials are just as excited about the return of federal prisoners to the Gila County jail.
Their return, according to county figures, signifies a $600,000 revenue boost into the county coffers.
"Capt. (Bill) Blank has done an absolutely super job in turning that place around," said Gila County District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen.
The county jail in Globe was designed to house 168 prisoners, but the average census runs about 160 with federal prisoners. Without the federal prisoners, the average daily census is about 100.
In June 1998, the county lost its contract with the U.S. Department of Justice to house federal prisoners due to deficiencies in the jail system. Justice officials alleged that conditions at the jail and standard practices of its staff failed to provide adequate care and basic services for inmates.
Since then, county and jail officials devised a plan to bring the facility up to federal standards.
"We rebuilt our kitchen, put a new roof on the building, increased our staff," Blank said. "We've also gone in for a higher degree of training for our staff, and have changed our management philosophy from linear to more direct supervision of the prisoners."
Many of those changes have also led to a boost in morale among the jail's inmates, Christensen said. "Nobody likes to be there," he said, "but the overall atmosphere has changed tremendously."
Blank said the less-volatile population has led to a huge reduction in conflicts with detention officers.
"We went from 77 officer-related incidents last year, to four this year," the captain said. Those four from this year all stemmed from one encounter.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Gila County leaders approved the intergovernmental agreement that puts the federal prisoners --and $600,000 --back in Gila County.
With the new agreement, Gila County will be compensated $54.63 per prisoner. "Before, we were only getting about $30," Christensen said.
The county will also receive an additional $14.24 per hour for any prisoners that need to be transported anywhere, plus 31-cents per mile.
"I think (the Justice Department officials) were impressed with the vast improvements we made and how fast we did it," Blank said. "Some of our programs are now being recommended to other departments around the country."
Blank and Christensen agreed that the turn-around of the jail system could not have been done without cooperation.
"All of these improvements have been staff-related," Blank said. "The success of these changes are a direct result of the dedication of the detention personnel and the sheriff's personnel. We've all worked together to create a safer program."