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County hires jail consultant

COTTONWOOD - Yavapai County officials decided Monday, Aug. 17, to pay more than $157,000 to a consultant for an evaluation and plan for county jails to be completed within six months.

The decision comes in the wake of a failed effort by county officials last fall to double the Yavapai County Jail District sales from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. Voters rejected the county's proposal by a margin of 4 percent in November.

"Speaking for myself, the reason that we're looking at this contract is specifically to answer questions that we believed we had the answers to, but we want to make sure the answer is correct as possible," Board of Supervisors Chairman Craig Brown said.

Supervisor Thomas Thurman underscored the expectation that the jail study will not be influenced by politics.

"You're not being told by us or the sheriff's department how to morph this around, correct?" he asked, to which Karen Chinn, president of Chinn Planning Inc., gave an affirmative response.

Supervisor Rowle Simmons added his own comments, seemingly directed at naysayers, that Chinn Planning cannot directly benefit from the proposals within the assessment.

"If, in fact you recommend something, you cannot be part of the fix," he said.

Brown too chimed in with comments he wanted underscored.

After reading the cost listed in the agenda, he made a point of emphasizing the point. "Is The Courier getting that?" Brown asked after reading the $157,160 price tag for the jail study.

Thurman also asked Chinn's opinion of the "tent city" approach to county jails that has gained national spotlight at Maricopa County jails.

"I would be afraid of the lawsuits," she said, adding that incarceration "should be done in a humane, safe and efficient way."

Chinn said she has 30 years of experience with planning projects like the jail assessment for Yavapai County, and she's been running her own company in Long Beach, California, for 22 years.

Ken Van Kueren, director of facilities for Yavapai County, said the Board of Supervisors, which also functions as the board of directors for the jail district, asked him in January to seek proposals for a needs assessment and planning, leading to the selection of Chinn Planning Inc. for the contract.

Chinn's experience includes a long list of city and county jails, and state and federal prisons across the U.S. In Arizona, she provided planning for the Mohave County Jail in Kingman and a private prison in Eloy.

Addressing the fact that the Camp Verde Detention Center is not in the county's main population center in Prescott and Prescott Valley, she said she's dealt with several similarly situated communities.

"While it's going to be unique to Yavapai County, some of those issues I've dealt with throughout the United States," Chinn said.

She outlined a process including meetings with a project advisory committee over several months. When she finishes, Chinn said her company will deliver a needs assessment for the jail, including inmate forecasting as well as requirements for staffing and square-footage.

She said her goal is to provide the information community leaders need to make informed decisions.

"A lot of times there's information that's out there that's not correct," she said. "I'll go in to a jurisdiction and they say, 'Our jail is so overcrowded because crime and arrest is up.' And that's not even the truth."

She pointed to figures showing declining arrest rates in Yavapai County, even as population increased.

Within her proposal to the county, she provided 10-year totals indicating arrests were down 2.7 percent from 2004 to 2013, though the decline in arrest rates slowed since 2010. In 2013, Yavapai County's arrest rate was about 40 arrests per 1,000 county residents, a sharp drop from the 64.6 arrests per 1,000 residents in 2004.

Part of Chinn's study will be to look at those trends, offense rates and other factors to project the county's jail needs in 10-year increments for a total of 30 years.

The contract also includes an analysis led by Larry Smith, with DLR Group's Phoenix office, to assess existing facilities and present the county with options for construction and costs to meet the needs outlined in Chinn's assessment.

Chinn noted that facilities represent about one-tenth of the county's jail-related costs.

She explained operational costs - primarily labor, transportation and utilities - represent a larger figure of jail operations.

Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 1110, or 928-830-9503.

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