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Pima County takes steps toward new jail

Supervisors vote 3-2 to explore building condition, funding
Posted at 3:56 PM, Jan 24, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A new Blue Ribbon Commission will look into the prospect of a new Pima County jail, at the suggestion of Sheriff Chris Nanos. In December, he made a case to the Board of Supervisors that the aging facility was riddled with issues, resulting in "deplorable" conditions.

Nanos cited a crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding among inmates—a combination which makes a poor environment for everyone involved, including employees.

Following the recommendation of County Administrator Jan Lesher, the Board voted 3-2 to establish the commission, which will explore the need for jail improvements.

"When you hear the concept of a 'new jail,' it's not just the physical construction of such but it may be...what are the current standards, and how we might want to look at additional ways to operate the jail," Lesher said.

One of the two 'no' votes, District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy said "good ideas to go blue ribbon commissions to die."

Christy called the commission's formation "premature," saying the county should use the opportunity to get assessments—possibly through a bid process—from local construction companies on whether building remediation or new construction were the best paths forward.

A primary function of the commission would also be to look into the best possible sources of funding, which Lesher says could come from a number of sources—formation of a new 'jail district,' a sales tax and a general fund bond were some of the possibilities the commission will likely explore.

Some supervisors, including District 2 Supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz and Board Chair Adelita Grijalva—raised the question of overall jail operations, suggesting the commission also provide directions on whether non-violent offenders are incarcerated.

"The other factor is, some of the things that are going on in the jail, our sheriff doesn't have control over," Grijalva said. "I think it's important for us to look at the umbrella of how the courts and the county, the county administrator, how it's all working together. I think that may be bigger than what this blue ribbon commission is doing, but when we get recommendations that come back to the Board, I do think that they have to be comprehensive."

Lesher's next step forward is to pinpoint commission members, which she said will likely consist of experts in facilities management and structural engineering.

The commission will have a 180-day timeline to develop its initial recommendations to the Board.

District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson joined Christy with a 'no' vote.

Board Chair Grijalva and Supervisors Rex Scott and Matt Heinz voted yes.

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Anne Simmons is the digital executive producer for KGUN 9. Anne got her start in television while still a student at the University of Arizona. Before joining KGUN, she managed multiple public access television stations in the Bay Area and has worked as a video producer in the non-profit sector. Share your story ideas and important issues with Anne by emailing or by connecting on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.