County Facilities: Why Are We Doing This Now?

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I was asked a very good question that we haven't discussed yet in these articles and that we do need to think about. And that question was "Why are we even discussing new jails and courts at this time?"

While the Facilities Committee has pointed out that our jails are inadequate and our courthouses are not securable, let's take a look at exactly what that means and see if we can answer this question for ourselves.

Bookings in our jails increased about 11% over the five-year period from 2001-2006. However, for 2007, the bookings are already at 11 percent over last year. This represents the largest single increase in one year that we have ever experienced.

Because of this, we are currently unable to control jail overcrowding, period. Research indicates that the jail has released 65 inmates, just in the last 6 days, and as of Oct. 24, the jail is still at full-rated capacity of 152 beds.

These 65 releases have been a combination of early releases, releases to halfway houses, etc., and some of them are a cause for our concern.

For instance, of the nine men recently released to halfway houses, three promptly escaped. One turned himself back into the jail. One was re-arrested while committing another crime. One has still not been found.

Not only are the sheriff's office and local courts actively engaged in early releases and alternative housings, but other options are being considered as well. Options such as re-establishing a Home Arrest Program or only jailing those with felony arrests, while citing and releasing most other offenses.

Also, of particular concern to the sheriff and our judicial system, is that an early release or alternative housing may be granted to someone who qualifies as a ‘nonviolent' offender, who in all reality is really a very bad customer. In other words, a felon is picked up for shoplifting and quite possibly could be released before anyone learns of his other offenses.

In addition, there are other liabilities that extreme overcrowding brings to us. For instance, since 70 percent of all our inmates are considered pre-trial detainees and are innocent until proven guilty, our jail administrators have a constitutional ‘duty to protect' and to ‘maintain standard conditions of confinement.' o maintain our current average daily female population of 33-35 women and keep them housed in 18 beds is not "maintaining standard conditions of confinement."

Also, according to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) mandates and standards, all detention centers and jails must set aside 25 percent of their rated bed capacity for classification purposes.

Inmates are classified and housed separately because of 1.) their charges, 2.) for disciplinary needs, 3.) for administrative segregation and 4.) for medical reasons.

In our 152-bed facility, that means that when 114 beds are full, the facility is at mandated capacity -- as the remaining 38 beds must be left available for potential classification needs. However, our average daily population for the last four months has averaged61 inmates.

Because of the extreme overcrowding of the jail, the Facilities Committee recommended a doubling of the jail space to 300 beds. As we discussed last week, the question before us on Nov. 6 is on how we pay for the construction and operation of this additional space.

Do we use a half-cent sales tax (a "yes" vote on the sales tax issue) or do we use primary property tax (a "no" vote on the sales tax issue).

Now for an incident report that illuminates our unsecured court vulnerability. This situation could have happened in either Globe or Payson since the circumstance of unsecured courts are the same, but one day last week in Payson, a 14-year -old juvenile offender decided to steal a gun, go to the Payson courthouse and kill his probation officer.

His grandfather ratted him out, so the Payson police and the Sheriff's office were able to put the Payson facility on lockdown until the youth was found and the situation dealt with.

My point here is that if the grandfather had not reported it, and the young man had made it to the court facility with his gun -- there is nothing on-site to discover whether or not he is armed -- much less to stop him. Nor, as the Committee pointed out, are our existing facilities designed for "secure-ability."

Again, the question before us on Nov. 6 is how to pay for the construction of secured courthouses.

Do we use "cheap" money that is available through bonding (and paid for with dedicated secondary property tax) -- a "yes" vote in the bond election; or primary property tax, or a "no" vote in the bond election?

And now I'd like to "switch gears" for a minute. I don't know about you, but I'm struck numb and speechless by the fires in California and fretting, because I know that it could just as easily be us. Until next week -- be careful, be firewise, and be thankful.

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