New county jail will improve safety, save money

Posted 2/25/20

Public safety is a core function of government, probably the most important thing we do. Jails are a necessary component.

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New county jail will improve safety, save money


Public safety is a core function of government, probably the most important thing we do. Jails are a necessary component.

I get it, though. When many of you hear the county spent millions of dollars to build a new jail, your first question might be: Why? Or: Don’t we have enough jails?

So, let me explain the thinking behind the new Maricopa County Intake, Transfer and Release Facility near 27th Avenue and Durango Street.

First, we knew we had to replace the Durango Jail, which was built in the 1970s and is really showing signs of its age.

Second, we knew it wasn’t enough to simply replace one building with another. The ITR facility is not just another jail; it’s a better way of managing the approximately 100,000 people who go through our jail system each year.

This one facility that will handle nearly every step in the process for a suspect: intake, transfer and release (as the name suggests); but also court hearings, short-term housing, long-term housing, medical and mental health treatment, and skill-building programs that provide a better chance of success upon release.

Up until now, many of these services were spread out at different locations.

I was part of the board that voted to fund the design and construction of the facility in 2015. And I have been part of many more discussions about how we can build a more efficient, more accessible, more integrated system to meet our public safety needs.

Here are some of the ways the new ITR facility will provide better value for taxpayers, and a better experience for those who go through our jail system.

Reduced transport costs

Right now, if you’re arrested in Maricopa County, you will likely be “booked” at the county’s 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix. This is home to approximately 20% of our jail population, while the jails on the Durango campus (Durango, Towers, Lower Buckeye, Estrella) house the other 80%.

For years, we’ve spent too much time and money transporting inmates from their point-of-intake downtown to their next step in the process on the Durango campus.

Having intake there means we’ll spend less on transports. In fact, it is estimated 60% of arrestees booked into the ITR will stay at the facility or will bond out with no immediate transport needs. This is the kind of efficiency we need and taxpayers deserve.

Faster intake

Not only is the new intake facility more cost effective, it’s also more time effective. This is a huge priority for me and our board. We’ve heard from police chiefs frustrated at how much time their officers are spending at the downtown jail, waiting for arrestees to go through the process.

Booking can take more than four hours. That’s half a shift for an officer. If an arrest happens late in the day, a long booking process might require an officer to work overtime with the increased pay that involves.

Now, all bookings will be done at the ITR, where an open-seating design and better layout should significantly reduce intake time. Our hope now is that intakes will last less than one hour.

That means officers will back on the streets of your cities and towns faster, patrolling the area and doing the work that keeps you safe. Again, this is the kind of efficiency we need and taxpayers deserve.

Better outcomes for low-risk offenders

Most of the people arrested and brought to our jails are eligible for release. Many of them are released within 72 hours. In our current system, these folks are moving around from one place to another as they wait to see a judge.

Ultimately, they join the general population at one of our jails, which can include convicted felons, repeat offenders and other “frequent fliers.” Research shows that as little as 72 hours in jail for these low-risk offenders can increase their risk of re-offending and coming back to jail.

That is why Maricopa County created a separate, 512-bed holding area for short-term stays and included court rooms on site. Many arrestees will be able to bond out of jail; others may qualify for diversion programs rather than jail time.

Either way, getting low-risk offenders in and out of the system more quickly can ensure these individuals do not lose their homes and jobs while dealing with criminal charges. This is good for public safety and our economy; and it is also cost-effective since shortening length of stay lowers costs.

In short, the new ITR facility is more than a series of buildings; it’s a new system to improve public safety outcomes.

The board is proud to have funded this project and looks forward to working with the Sheriff’s Office, our courts and our county and municipal partners to make it a facility that serves the needs of our fast-growing county for decades to come.

Clint Hickman is chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and represents District 4, which includes Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Peoria, Sun City, Sun City West, Surprise, Wickenburg and Youngtown.