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Preliminary jail report: no room to expand, $11M to bring up to standards

A slide from the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Jail Assessment PowerPoint presentation.

A slide from the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Jail Assessment PowerPoint presentation.

A preliminary jail assessment study requested by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors (BOS) indicates the Verde Valley jail's infrastructure and building structure is in good condition and very well run. The Gurley Street facility in Prescott has some "limitations." Karen Chinn of Chinn Planning Inc. and Larry Smith, architect with DLR Group, presented their findings so far to the supervisors at their first meeting of the year, Jan. 6.

In addition to the physical building assessments, they presented information on population and arrest numbers, breakdown of crimes, and projections for future needs for the county jail system. Chinn's presentation is an initial look at data, trends and needs, with a final presentation set for Feb. 17.

Smith, a detention design expert, evaluated the existing jail facilities sites to determine the feasibility of expanding either or both sites, necessary renovations, and looked at the possible need for a new jail. The downtown location of the Gurley Street jail prohibits any expansion, Smith said. In addition, he found several features of concern.

One safety matter involves the potential for assaults against prisoners or staff where the bus has to park outside the intake area with a 100-yard walk into the building. A predictable bus schedule adds to his concerns.

While the infrastructure of the Prescott jail is good, the system itself does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it needs a complete replacement, he said. The Verde jail site also has limited room for expansion, its security system needs upgrading, and the kitchen and laundry have outgrown their space.

Smith ran a draft assessment to compare costs for bringing facilities up to standard versus costs of new construction. Anything over a .6 range indicates existing facilities are in poor condition and it may be better to replace them with new, he said. The Verde jail came in "very, very good" at .16-.19; the Gurley Street jail indicated .84-.97 for the jail system, which did not include the office space.

Chinn included numerous graphs and charts in her presentation that included a 20-year population growth from 1990-2010 of 95.9 percent; a projected increase of 37 percent from 2010-2030, arrest trends for violent crimes, Superior and Justice court trends, daily population and profiles of Yavapai County inmates, transportation costs, and number of participants and graduation rates in the Drug Court and DUI Courts.

One way to keep jail population numbers down is to increase programs that address underlying issues for inmates - drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness. She found very few alternatives to incarceration in the county.

It doesn't make sense to hold people in jail for four to six months before they are able to enter treatment or participate in drug court, Chinn said. The recidivism, or return, rate for graduates of the year-and-a-half county program is "extremely low" at about 9 percent three years after graduation.

"It's critically important to have pre-trial diversion programs at the time of arrest," Chinn said, adding that it's important to know who makes up the inmate population as well as the quantity.

The average daily number of inmates over the past 10 years consistently falls between 450-500 - except for 2007, when the numbers reached 586. Chinn added 20-25 percent in her forecast model for estimated future bedspace.

Using a base average daily jail population of 497 (2015), and including a 20 percent factor for peaking and classification, Chinn projects a capacity need of between 611 and 1,358 total beds by 2035, based on several forecast factors.

Incidentally, her research indicates crime rates in Yavapai County, as well as national trends, dropped as the economy fell. The County Attorney's office filed 2,550 felonies in 2004, which peaked at 3,098 in 2007, and dropped to a low of 1,895 in 2011. There has been a slight uptick in the past year to 1,966.

Click here to download Board of Supervisors Jail Assessment PowerPoint (10 MB)

Follow Sue Tone on Twitter @ToneNotes. Reach her at 928-445-3333 x2043 or 928-642-7867.

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