Sheriff says jail is falling apart, has reached crisis stage
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County’s jail is 40 years old and it’s falling apart. Not only that, but it’s overcrowded, even after nearly four years of trying to reduce its inmate population.
“That facility, in its current condition, is not just unlivable for the inmates but it’s a disgusting place to work,” Pima County’s Sheriff Chris Nanos told the Pima County Board of Supervisors. “It’s a horrific work environment.”
A tour of the jail shows why. Some of the maladies are water leaks in the bathrooms and the kitchen, even after a $1.5 mil repair job, plaster falling off walls and ceilings, mold growing in the showers, the façade is crumbling, threatening to injure inmate and workers, rusting guardrails and peeling paint.
It lead Supervisor Adelita Grijalva to ask if it might be possible to fix it up rather than build a new one.
Nanos says it’s beyond and engineering fix.
“What this is really about for me, safety in our facility, and not just for inmates but for staff,” he said “We are in a crisis.”
Tensions in the jail are high on both sides of the bars. About a hundred inmates are relegated to sleeping on the floor.
Recently 90 inmates refused to go back to their cells for lockdown, creating a tense situation but one which ended peacefully after an hour of tense negotiations. A female corrections officer, who had been on the job for only three months, was choked by an inmate and was unconscious for 24 minutes before being revived.
And the type of inmate has gone from a mix of lesser crimes to a jail housing mostly hardened criminals.
“Today we have about 95% felons where I think about a year ago it was probably close to 65% felons,” Nanos said.
Nanos says the solution should be valley wide rather than one specific jurisdiction, which is why he’s proposing a ½ cent sales tax which would be used to fight crime in all local jurisdictions.
It could raise a $100 mil a year which could fund the jail and other needed police operations, such as hiring more corrections officers at a higher wage.
The jail has lost about 30% of its officers due to working conditions and pay. Nanos says he has about 170 fewer corrections officers than he did in 2016 but the number of inmates is the same.
He seems to have some support on the board for his requests.
“One our main statutory responsibilities of this board is justice and law enforcement and there is no question you need a new jail,” Board chair Sharon Bronson told the sheriff following his presentation.
Next, is to come up with a plan and cost estimates.
The board will do that at its first meeting in January.
Once that’s done, the next step is to convince voters of the need.
“I am asking you to allow me to work with Ms. Lesher, the County Administrator, in putting together a fund, that would put together a ½ sales tax,” he said to the board.
The board voter unanimously to do so.
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