Ten members from the Gila County Facilities Planning Committee were escorted through the Gila County Courthouse and its adjoining jail in Payson on Wednesday, in a tour designed to exhibit the desperate need for larger facilities.
The overcrowded courtrooms and dangerously packed jail facility were among the issues discussed by the committee.
The two-hour tour was given by staff of the Gila County Sheriff's Office, including James Eskew, and Gila County Clerk of the Superior Court, Anita Escobedo.
The committee met after the tour for an hour-long meeting at Gila Community College in Payson to hear a presentation from Bill Hardy, executive director of the Arizona Counties Insurance Pool.
The presentation looked at the experiences of other counties in Arizona that were forced to remedy the array of problems they suffered because of inadequate jail and court facilities.
Graham and Navajo Counties were among three counties discussed in the presentation that have experienced a decrease in problems as a result of new, larger facilities.
Members of the committee were visibly concerned by the lack of necessary room and the makeshift offices that staff members were jammed into, in both the courthouse and jail.
Member Dan Adams said, "I've never seen so many d--- problems without a solution in all my life."
Files were crammed on shelves and boxes waiting to be transported to the courthouse facility in Globe for storage were stacked six feet high.
Transport to the larger facilities in Globe is a daily concern for employees at the courthouse and jail.
Files must be kept in Globe because there is no room for them and inmates are transported to Globe when the Payson facilities become too crowded, Escobedo said.
The Payson facilities lack a mandatory fireproof vault for current court files and so they must be kept in Globe, a process creating expenditures in both time and travel, Escobedo said.
Crude offices packed with four clerical workers or two probation officers were converted from jury waiting rooms and areas meant for use by lawyers for conferences with their clients.
The courthouse conference room triples its use as a juvenile holding area and storage facility for a copy machine and file cabinet.
Inmates are sometimes forced to sleep on the floor, due to a lack of bed space in the jail. Sheriff's office staff act as untrained medics, handing out medicine to inmates when necessary.
"We're probably the only jail in the U.S. where detention officers dispense medication," Deputy William Carlson said. "We don't have trained personnel."
There is only one cell equipped to handle combative prisoners and a fire-escape door in the back of the jail is clumsily opened because work-release inmates' lockers are in the way.
"The jail is just way too small," Eskew said.
The jail, built in 1964, has four beds for female inmates and lacks sufficient bed space for male inmates as well.
Hardy said that Gila County bookings have increased 150 percent since 1994 alone.
"Ideally, we'd need a 150-bed jail," Eskew said. "One that was designed to be added-on as needed."
The committee, which was created to determine if there is a need for new law enforcement facilities in Gila County, will meet again on Wednesday, Feb. 14 in Globe.
The committee is expected to have a recommendation for the Gila County Board of Supervisors by May.