A tale of two jails: Yavapai, Mohave facilities differ in philosophy, atmosphere
Originally Published: February 20, 2013 10 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher is proud of his jail. Recently, he said, "If you go to other jails and look at the cleanliness, the quietness, what the inmates are doing, it's a big difference."We toured Mascher's Camp Verde jail and then asked reporters from our sister publication, the Kingman Daily Miner, to tour the Mohave County jail so we could compare the two.The Yavapai County jail in Camp Verde is clean, quiet and orderly. It's run by YCSO Captain Brian Hunt, who echoes Sheriff Scott Mascher's concerns about protecting the civil rights of inmates, most of whom have not been convicted of a crime while they are in the jail.Walking down the long hallway the jail staff calls "The Grey Mile," a reference to the Hollywood prison movie "The Green Mile," Hunt stopped and asked, "Listen. What do you hear?"Nothing but the airhandling equipment."What do you smell?"Lunch, and it smells pretty good.There's no yelling, and inmates aren't banging on the bars - in fact, there aren't any bars. The jail is made up of pods, each containing "dorms," which open onto common areas where inmates read, play board games, watch TV, and talk. The dorms, their sleeping quarters, have small windows high above the floor and solid doors. Detention officers monitor their activity with surveillance cameras and one-way glass."No flaming rolls of toilet paper being thrown around," Hunt said with a chuckle.At the Mohave County jail in Kingman, safety and security top a list of priorities. Inmate comfort does not.Those accused of crimes such as murder and rape live in the A-pod - which houses roughly 40 inmates - and are referred to as the "pre-trial worst of the worst." They spend 23 hours a day in their cell, get zero recreation time and are unhappy about it. The one hour a day they get to make phone calls is quickly stripped from the offenders who act up during their stay in A-pod."We get no recreation time up here," yelled one from his cell during the Miner's tour of the facility.Others took up his chorus and rained down complaints about the jail from their cells, making serious accusations and then laughing about them as if it's all a big joke."The COs (corrections officers) beat my ass," one inmate yelled, prompting the whole pod to break out in raucous laughter.Jail Commander Bruce Brown shook his head and cracked a small smile."We don't run the best hotel," he said.***Mascher's background includes a five-year stint in charge of the jail under former Sheriff Buck Buchanan, so his point of view is influenced by the experience. "I don't know what I'd do without that jail knowledge," Mascher said.One of the things he learned is that, when you give inmates reasons to get angry or frustrated, they'll eventually become violent and that can lead to rioting.Food is the number one way to avoid that, Mascher said."You know, sure - we could give them green bologna, but we're giving them the calories of a national standard for 80 cents a meal or less, so why not give them something that makes them a little more content?" he asked.The federal government mandates the jail provide certain things to inmates, including 3,000 calories (two hot meals, one cold meal) a day, medical care, mental health care and emergency dental care.In Kingman, the jail is spotless and relatively quiet outside of A-pod (maximum security). A trip to the control room that manages E-pod (medium security) and F-pod (minimum security) is a much more comfortable than a trip to A-pod. These two pods house female inmates, who look a lot happier than the boys locked down in maximum security.It's just before lunch - a meal consisting of two sandwiches, a bag of chips and two cookies - and in both pods you can see some women walking the rooms' perimeters as if they're working out on a track.***The Camp Verde jail kitchen is a point of pride for Mascher. Inmates work side-by-side to prepare meals with employees. "The employees that work in the jail will eat that food," Mascher said. "The inmates know that, so they know they're getting something that's good."Hunt treats them with respect, gives them things to do, both indoors and out. "A busy inmate is a happier inmate," Hunt said - and the jail runs much more smoothly.Keeping the place clean counts, too. "I think how you keep the facility absolutely clean is critical," Mascher said. "I think if you keep those floors polished, if you sanitize daily, keep the walls clean, the doors clean, the windows clean, and you see employees and inmates doing that, it instills pride in what you're doing." In Kingman, lesser offenders do all of the jail's laundry and work in the kitchen doing prep work. Inmates sentenced to county time also work outside of the jail, including painting over graffiti found on county buildings."We utilize them because it's free labor," Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, who, like Mascher, was commander of his county's jail in the 1980s, said. "And it's an opportunity (for inmates) to get out of their cells."Those housed in the A-pod don't get to work inside or outside the jail. In fact, they don't get to do much of anything.Camp Verde takes a different tack, separating by policy, "sex offenders, informants, law enforcement affiliated, escape risks, violent towards staff or other inmates, exhibit institutional behavioral problems, mentally or physically ill, or any other circumstance that may make them a higher safety and security risk."YCSO Lt. Scott Rushing said, "These people cannot be housed, typically, with anyone, due the threat of violence against them, their own propensity for violence, or their complete and utter inability to follow institutional rules," he said. "They are allowed a half-hour out of their cell daily to shower, (and) make phone calls," but other activities like attorney visits and medical care don't count against that time.Sex offenders, he added, are not usually locked down but are held with other sex offenders.***There are currently about 550 inmates in the 600-bed Camp Verde facility, although that number changes daily. Some are bed-rental inmates, other agencies' prisoners. Those agencies pay YCSO $63 a day to house their inmates. The jail used to run in the red, but thanks to the aggressive bed-rental program and other assorted funding ideas Mascher instituted, the jail made a profit in 2012.The first week of February, there were just over 500 inmates in the Mohave County Jail. The jail's capacity is approximately 700. John Timko, Mohave County's Finance Director, said the county does not rent out space in the jail to any county or city. Timko said the jail is neither in the red nor the black, but simply operates within its budget.Brown was instrumental in the design and development of the jail in Kingman, and he takes great pride in the way it runs."It's a massive operation," he said. "But it's a necessary expense."Reporters from the Kingman Daily Miner contributed to this story.