Greenlee County officials have another reason to hope that COVID-19 numbers continue to decline; they need help figuring out what to do with the county’s 40-year-old jail.
Greenlee County Administrator Derek Rapier said the county had hired a team of experts to tour the jail and provide their opinion on the facility, but once the pandemic hit, the group backed out of the visit.
“We have increasing maintenance costs and it was built in an era with different regulations and so forth. So it’s a issue that we’re going to need to address eventually. Eventually is probably sooner rather than later,” Rapier said.
The county needs to determine what makes the most sense, Rapier said.
“One of the things that we would look at is, Do we expand? Do we contract? Do we stay at the location we’re at? Do we remodel the facility that’s there? Do we build a brand new facility at a new location? We’ve even kicked around the idea ‘Is outsourcing a viable option?’ At the beginning of any kind of a process like this we want to leave every option on the table and not lock ourselves in,” Rapier said. “I often said during my legal profession that you get answers to the questions you ask, and so if you ask questions with components A, B and C you might get one answer, but if you’re throwing component D in, you might get a different answer.”
What’s clear is the jail currently doesn’t have room for inmate programs and it’s sometimes difficult to keep inmates separated from each other who need to be separated, he said.
“If you have a person who came in overnight for DUI or, until just recently, maybe a marijuana possession, you could have them in the same pod with an accused murderer and you should manage those different populations differently,” he said.
A new or renovated jail has been the topic of discussions since 2012 and he’s been pushing for one since his election in 2016, said Sheriff Tim Sumner.
“Greenlee County has done a good job of maintaining the facility and that is why it has lasted over 40 years. However, those years are showing and full 24/7/365 use buildings have much more wear than normal governmental buildings used during normal business hours,” Sumner said via email.
Segregating prisoners is definitely an issue, but so is the layout and structural integrity of the building, Sumner said.
Sumner would like to see a new sheriff’s office/jail complex near Three-Way, where the county owns property, but he is open to any suggestions.
“The current location is not suitable since it is grid-locked in a triangle between a state highway, a railroad right-of-way, and a major gas pipeline that runs through the parking lot between the jail and the sheriff’s office,” Sumner said.
Sumner said “the last and least logistical option” would be to send inmates and defendants elsewhere because it wouldn’t help reduce recidivism or help inmates stay engaged with their community.
Rapier said the county does own some land, but not all of it makes sense for a jail, including 40 acres south of Duncan. The county would have to take into consideration accessibility, infrastructure and utlities.
As for sending inmates elsewhere, Rapier said. “it’s a potential solution to inmate housing that I think ought to be at least asked and explored. But it may be a non-starter and a bad idea.”
As for funding, it’s too soon to consider that, Rapier said.
“That is certainly a question that looms large over anything. And and so, as with any decision, you can’t ignore the cost and look only at the benefits. So, yeah, there’s that, and we’re not anywhere close to that yet, but that will certainly enter in the decision-making process,” Rapier said.
The bottom line is the county has a duty to house inmates and they’ve got to figure out the best way to do that for both the inmates and their families, Rapier said.
“How do we design something that’s efficient? How do we meet that that obligation in the most cost effective way for voters. That’s really what it boils down to,” he said.
Until it’s safe, Rapier said jail discussions will continue internally.