Gila County sheriff candidates Adam Shepherd and Craig Jones agree on a lot of things, but not about who should run the overcrowded, underfunded jails.
For years, Major Jim Eskew has overseen jail operations, managing what often amounts to more bodies than beds.
Most have lauded his efforts to deal with overcrowding and deteriorating facilities, but Jones, a Democrat, said the county needs a change in jail command.
“I feel he has done a job to the best of his ability, but this is one change I feel is due,” Jones said.
If elected, Jones said he would appoint someone new as jail commander and take a closer look at more efficient ways to run both jails.
Shepherd, a Republican, said he was surprised to hear this, especially since Eskew has helped the jail meet and exceed national standards.
“The quality of jail management has improved over the last several years,” he said. “The jail commander is a large contributor of setting standards and a jail management policy.”
Shepherd said he has no plans to remove Eskew. If Eskew elected to retire, Shepherd said he would ask him to help pick a successor.
While the men clearly differ on who should run the jails, both agree it is high time to modernize both facilities.
Most residents don’t know what is going on inside the Globe or Payson jail. If they could peek inside, they would find outdated, inefficient facilities that badly need replacing or at least upgrading, both candidates said.
Since voters struck down efforts to build new facilities several years ago, the only option for now is upgrading the existing spaces. Shepherd said he would support going back to the voters again for approval to build a new jail in Payson.
He says a new jail would not only be safer, it would cost less to run. “A jail that is not modern costs you more money than it should because you need more people to run it,” Shepherd said.
The design of both facilities requires more employees to oversee inmates.
The Globe jail, built in the 1970s, has two linear hallways of cells angling out of a command center.
The Payson jail is more of a box. Both are inefficient because staff cannot see all inmates from the command center. Modern jail design arranges cell blocks in a circle with staff sitting in the middle.
Shepherd proposes turning at least one of the cell block rows in Globe into a circular design.
Despite the high cost of construction, it would save money in the long run over a major remodel by cutting down on the number of guards needed.
“Personnel costs us over and over again, but you buy brick and mortar just once,” Shepherd said. “It would be a big undertaking, but it could be retrofitted for less than it would cost if ripped down.”
Jones wasn’t as specific about his plan to improve the jails, but said he supported upgrading both. “I am going to work very hard to improve the jails,” he said. “I know we can’t move it, but I would like to modernize it.”
Appearing at a candidate forum last week in Globe, both candidates also rejected the idea of building a Maricopa County style “tent city,” where prisoners are housed outside in cloth tents.
Shepherd said tents draw lawsuits and it is easier for inmates to smuggle contraband in because control is lax. Furthermore, you need a lot of people to run it.
“It is not something I would advocate,” he said.
Jones said he agreed with Shepherd, citing increased costs and control issues.
Shepherd said he is open to putting a jail improvement tax back on the ballots if the county board of supervisors supported the idea.
Voters would have to approve any major jail improvements.
In Payson, a new jail is badly overdue, both men said.
“When I came to work for the sheriff’s office (in the ’80s) that jail was closed by the federal government,” Shepherd said.
The government had closed it after several inmates died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Reportedly, the heaters were on and the ventilation system wasn’t working properly. Although the county redid the ventilation system, it left the rest of the Payson jail the same — and that is how it sits today, Shepherd said.
Fixing the jail is cost prohibitive, but the county has other ways to cut costs, he said. One way is limiting the number of trips from Globe to Payson transporting inmates. That would be hard, though, because a judge must see an inmate within 24 hours of his arrest in the city where the arrest took place.
Shepherd said the only true solution is building a bigger Payson facility that can handle dangerous inmates and those with medical issues.
Jones said another option is to avoid filling the jails with minor offenders.
Although the county should jail people accused of domestic violence and dangerous criminals, it doesn’t make sense to jail someone found with a small amount of marijuana, he said.
“If they have a tiny amount of weed they are going to be cited, I’m not going to fill my jails with people like that. We don’t have room,” he said. “Some people get arrested and put in jail for a warrant for not paying traffic ticket and we don’t have space for it.”
Shepherd said it is too risky to pick and choose who gets arrested. He supports the current policy.
At a recent candidate forum in Globe, the candidates discussed their budgetary experience given the sheriff oversees one of the largest county budgets.
Shepherd said he has managed budgets within the sheriff’s office since his promotion to sergeant. As undersheriff for seven years, Shepherd said he managed the budget for field operations. Shepherd said he has the experience and guts to make difficult cutbacks when needed.
Jones admitted he has never handled a budget the size of the sheriff’s office, “but I am not afraid of it.”
Jones said he has run a business successfully for a number of years.