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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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2/5/2013 3:14:00 PM
New Prescott jail's future appears murky
By Scott Orr
Contributing Reporter

PRESCOTT - In a study session held at Prescott's Gurley Street jail location Monday, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors hashed out what it would take to build a new jail in Prescott.

The old jail, located above the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, is currently used for booking prisoners and holding them for court appearances, but not for holding them overnight. The aging facility came under fire in 1998, when a U.S. Department of Justice report said it had several significant problems, including problems with inmate security, and deficiencies in the building itself, such that it would be impractical to bring the jail into compliance.

In response, the county built an all-new jail in Camp Verde.

Monday, the board toured the jail to see the problems first-hand. YCSO Captain Brian Hunt led them through the claustrophobic hallways of a facility he said was "state-of-the- art 30 years ago." He described once getting into a physical fight with an inmate in an area where no one could see the fight or hear him call for help.

Overcrowding was always an issue, Hunt said, and shoehorning 300 inmates into a 135-bed facility often led to violence.

When they wrapped up the tour, they sat down to discuss the realities of building a new jail in Prescott.

The current jail in Camp Verde, built to replace the Gurley Street facility, does the job it was intended to do, but as Sheriff Scott Mascher pointed out, 69 percent of the inmates need to be transported, via a 50-minute bus or van trip, for court appearances in Prescott.

"We need to focus on getting a jail here in Prescott," Mascher told the board.

The problem is cost. The initial cost to build the jail is one problem, but the approximately $5 million to run it is equally difficult to cover.

The accepted price for a 120-bed jail was about $12 million, which the board, in May 2012, felt it could bankroll. But since then, Mascher has decided that a 240-bed jail would be needed, and several other agencies have requested that they have facilities included as well, which has made the price skyrocket to a possible $20 million.

No way that's going to happen, Supervisor Tom Thurman said. "We don't have $20 million. We have $19 million in the bank, and I won't spend every dime of it. I won't do that."

Suggestions tossed out included cutting back on the building's extra features, as well as the possibility of asking the voters for a bond issue - an idea which generated very little enthusiasm.

Supervisor Rowle Simmons said, "I want to see us get started here. These discussions have been going on for so long.

"Construction costs are going to start going back up big-time, and we have flittered away some of the best construction time in the history of this county," he added.

The board asked Mascher to assemble a list of what features the jail would need at a minimum, so it could take that to an architect to get a real-world estimate of the cost.

If it is built, the county will need to find the money to operate the new jail.

"All that will have to come from the (county's) general fund," Mascher said.

And while the YCSO makes considerable income from renting empty beds at the Camp Verde jail to other agencies, and the open beds that would result from moving the prisoners would open up more beds for rentals, those agencies won't guarantee they'll fill them.

"I can't get a contract from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on these bed rentals," Mascher said.

And the number they have been renting is dropping, due to what he called a "downturn in the arrest of illegal aliens for deportation."

Chairman Chip Davis, playing devil's advocate, said, "So you're better off not having a new jail, by the numbers."

YCSO Chief Deputy John Russell asked a chilling question near the end of the meeting.

"What happens if one of those buses with 40 inmates in it (traveling from Camp Verde to Prescott and back) goes off the road and rolls?" Russell asked. "What's that going to cost the county?"


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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
Article comment by: common sense

@ two cents Its called "bait and switch" I believe the tactic was invented by government bureaucrats.

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
Article comment by: two cents

Has anything being paid for with tax money, ever came in on budget?
Our state is critical of the Federal government and its spending, yet it is guilty of the same thing.
I think everyone knew the jail wasn't going to be built for the original cost, this overspending has just become the norm for our leaders. The more tax money involved, means more money that can squirreled away, misappropriated, and funneled into other personal 'under the table projects'.

Prisons are sick way to make money. This state calls itself conservative and supposedly believes in less federal government involvement in state government, yet it depends on the federal government and Arizona citizens for every taxpayer penny it can attain and has discovered prisons as a way to procure even more federal tax money.
This is a really sad state politically, and I really am beginning to see just how ugly Arizona is becoming.
Funny how all of this 'under the table' b.s. always comes to light only after the statute of limitations has run out, or the guilty has died.
just my two cents and in this country aint even worth two cents anymore.
P.S. Yes, I am looking to move.


Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article comment by: william gauslow

Sizing a jail seems to be : part guess, part black magic and when in doubt "double" it. Sheriff Mascher suggested 120 beds. The project seems affordable and feasible. Then Sheriff Mascher suggests 240 beds. Is this the best method to size such a facility. Why can't a jail for 120 beds be constructed with the ability to expand to 240. Its been done before. Or should we raise the money for a 240 bed facility and then our dear Sheriff will want a 480 bed jail. Instead of using the SWAG method, couldn't serious debate and a jail consultant be utilized ?

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article comment by: So the new jail in Prescott would allow more beds to be rented out in the Verde Valley?

Is the county in the jail business, too, and making money? Something wrong with this picture. How many of the beds are filled with marijuana offenders...no wonder the police are so anti MJ. It's an easy bust and may even fill a bed!

Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

I don't quite understand the numbers here. In one paragraph it says:

"Overcrowding was always an issue, Hunt said, and shoehorning 300 inmates into a 135-bed facility often led to violence."

In another paragraph it says:

"And while the YCSO makes considerable income from renting empty beds at the Camp Verde jail to other agencies, and the open beds that would result from moving the prisoners would open up more beds for rentals, those agencies won't guarantee they'll fill them."

300 is more than double 135. Where are they finding so many open beds to rent?





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