There is rigid order and routine in running a jail. There has to be, especially when facilities are as outdated and poorly designed as Gila County’s.
With police bringing suspects in around the clock, for all levels of crime, in all mental and emotional states, there is little room for error. And little room, period.
Jail officials are constantly juggling inmates at the 197-bed Globe facility and much smaller Payson holding cell, both nearing capacity in the latter half of 2013 thanks in part to an aggressive county attorney charging more cases.
Despite these challenges, the officials and staff at the county’s jail make it look easy.
Recently, the Roundup was given a behind the scenes look at the workings of the jail and an impromptu facility search — one that surprised inmates and staff alike.
Only a handful of people knew about the K9 search and despite the short notice, detention officers had the entire jail searched and re-housed within a few hours.
Without one single incident.
Things ran so smoothly, it was easy to forget a riot or fights are very real threats.
Threats that officers face every day in one of the most overlooked, but vital county roles.
The jail has a high turnover rate among employees faced with low pay and few perks.
Jail Commander Justin Solberg, who took over this year after jail veteran Jim Eskew retired, knows all too well the challenges.
His greatest fears: running out of room and an inmate suing the county for a civil rights violation or other mishap.
During the recent jail search, officers took special precautions to make sure inmates’ rights weren’t violated when they were strip-searched.
Each inmate was taken into a private room. Officers instructed them to squat and cough.
No inmates were ever touched.
Thanks to good training, there haven’t been any civil lawsuits.
But Solberg doesn’t have much control over space; there are only 225 beds in the jail. Nestled up against a butte behind the county courthouse in Globe, the jail appears small from the outside. Looks are not deceiving, inside, every inch of space is used.
Solberg explains that even before the jail was finished in the 1970s, it was doomed. It is laid out with two linear hallways of cells angling out of a command center.
Because of this design, staff cannot see into the individual cells from command, only the hallway.
This means staff cannot monitor inmates’ activities unless they walk the dimly lit halls.
In the new women’s jail, built just west of the men’s facility, bunk beds are spaced evenly in two large rooms. A command center sits in the middle of the rooms, where officers can watch what is happening in both, all the time.
In the Payson holding facility, technically not a jail because it can only hold 27 inmates, Solberg said he hears the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song in his head whenever he visits.
“It is just a cell block,” he said.
Anyone arrested in Payson who is held after the initial arraignment is sent to Globe.
When new inmates first enter the jail they usually meet quick-talking Christine Duarte or a member of her staff. Promoted to lieutenant in May, Duarte oversees intakes, among other tasks. Inmates are asked a series of questions and based on their gang affiliations, crime and religion, among other details, placed in a cell.
Solberg said high-risk cases, like accused murders and child abusers, are placed in a separate section of the jail, away from the general population.
He said those accused of child crimes are always separated because other prisoners don’t take too kindly to these inmates.
Before the recent search, Duarte ran the jail staff of 45 quickly through the objectives. Duarte, who started with corrections 11 years ago, moves quickly, never stopping for so much for a breath.
A former day care provider, Duarte said she was inspired to work in corrections by her brother, father and husband, who have all worked in law enforcement.
Within her first year, she was promoted to corporal and has moved up every year since.
Solberg said Duarte isn’t afraid to work with inmates. It’s a job not everyone is cut out for.
The jail has a high turnover rate and nearly 70 percent of staff has been with the department for five years or less.
Many officers use detention as a stepping stone into law enforcement. Others just can’t handle the day-to-day stress that comes along with the job.
Solberg said while corrections work is always interesting, it can get monotonous. Officers follow strict routines and procedures. There isn’t much wiggle room.
“It definitely is not for everybody,” he said. “In any kind of a detention job, the job will weed out the people that don’t belong in it real quick.”
He said new officers often fall into one of two camps — the strict Robocop or the soft guard that inmates take advantage of.
“The best officer is not too soft, but not too hard,” he said. “They build a rapport with the inmates, but can also lay down the law.”
Solberg said he falls somewhere in between thanks to his years of military experience.
After years in the Army, Solberg was looking for a job that offered him the same structure.
The jail was a good fit.
Now as jail commander, Solberg is tasked with maintaining the inmate population.
From January 2013 to November, the male jail population increased 71 percent. With only 225 beds and 185 inmates, nine in maximum custody, Solberg said they shuffle inmates to other counties.
“Within this past year, the jail population has increased drastically,” he said. “It was already high, but we are having to be creative with our housing because a lot of our child sex offenses and child abuse individuals we are having to farm them out to Pinal County.”
In 2012, the inmate population hovered around 130 to 140.
Contraband is always a concern and so searches are conducted regularly. Luckily, during the last two K9 searches, no drugs were found.
Indeed, in the latest search, officers only found tobacco in one cell. A shank was found in another though.
“It is a good thing to keep them on their toes so they never know when we might search,” said Kurt Johnson, classification officer.
Also found during the search was half an orange. Unassuming to most, Duarte said inmates make hooch out of fruit and drugs with cleaning supplies.
As she rounded up her staff after the search, she reminded them to keep after inmates about trash and picking up.
In these facilities, you can’t let your guard down for a minute.
BY THE NUMBERS
What charges inmates were held on in Gila County’s jails in 2013:
• 20 percent for warrants of failure to pay, failure to comply or failure to appear
• 20 percent for drug offenses
• 17 percent for thefts, burglaries or fraudulent schemes
• 10 percent for DUI or a driving offense
• 10 percent for shoplifting, trespassing or public intoxication
• 10 percent for child support
• 8 percent for child crimes (sex and abuse)
• 5 percent for murder or attempted murder
• In the past six years, 162 inmates have received their GED while in jail
• It costs $54.60 a day to house an inmate
• As of Dec. 31, 2013 there were 162 inmates, 74 percent of them male