Ducey plan to locate inmates in South Phoenix jail panned
PHOENIX (AP) — A state plan to add a prison employment center and housing for former inmates who violate release conditions at the county jail in south Phoenix was slammed Monday by elected officials who represent the area, business leaders and community members.
The proposal from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office would place a 335-bed employment training center for soon-to-be released inmates at Maricopa County’s Durango Jail complex. Also planned for the site is a 265-bed community corrections facility housing inmates who break release rules.
The new facilities would replace much smaller job training facilities at two prisons west of Phoenix and a north Phoenix community corrections center that has drawn anger from that middle-class community.
The proposal has been in the works for months, but community members, business owners and elected officials came out forcefully opposed to the plan on Monday. Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo called it “environmental racism” and criticized the idea of putting more inmates in a low-income, minority community that already has jails, a prison and a large homeless shelter.
“Why this location, a neighborhood that has been hit so many times with every type of program that the rest of the community doesn’t want?” Gallardo asked. “It continues to be the dumping ground of any type of negative type of program.”
Tim Roemer, a Ducey public safety adviser who is spearheading the plan, said the Durango Jail facility has the space, central location and other merits that make it a fine location. It would allow expanded access to job training to get inmates jobs when they are released. The state is working with the county on possible plans, which are not yet finalized.
But opponents noted that the Durango complex already has four jails that house thousands of county prisoners and there is a state prison nearby, as well as a homeless shelter. A new and much larger homeless shelter is also set to be built in the area.
“The clustering of homeless persons and released prisoners in our neighborhood by our city, county and state governments is not fair or reasonable and would never be allowed in a more affluent neighborhood,” business owner Hal Owens said at a news conference.
Steve Montoya, an attorney who is helping local residents organize against the proposal, said mothers he’s talked to are already afraid to walk in the neighborhood or let their children walk to school.
“This neighborhood has had enough, this neighborhood is not going to take it anymore,” Montoya said. “These facilities will not be expanded in this neighborhood because the businesses, the educators and the residents have combined against it and we know that our voices will be heard.”
The area is heavily Democratic, while the north Phoenix area where the current re-entry center is located votes Republican.
Roemer and Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the goal is to cut recidivism by getting prisoners jobs and keeping minor offenses from sending them back to prison. They also said community meetings are set to help neighbors understand the proposal.
“We don’t see this as partisan in any way. We don’t want it to be,” Scarpinato said. “We want to get to a point where we’re shutting down prisons. We don’t want people in our community to be going back to prison that we can help.”
Roemer said the state hopes to save $20 million to $30 million a year through lower recidivism rates. The cost of the new facilities isn’t clear, although they’re expected to be at least $20 million.
Schools and residents near a proposed new prison-related facility will be notified and have a chance to speak at community meetings under provisions of a law passed this year. The law was prompted by backlash to Ducey’s 2016 decision to open a re-entry center at the Adobe Mountain School off Interstate 17, which had previously been used to house juvenile offenders.