February 14, 2024

County Administrator skirts jail report’s suggestions, recommends new commission

Administrator Lesher largely agreed with issues facing PCADC, but said the county needs more information on cost and jail alternatives.

Pima County Seal The seal of Pima County.

Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher has weighed in on the final report from the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission, which spent last year examining the issues facing the Pima County Jail.

In a memo sent Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, Lesher recommended the most pressing safety repairs should be prioritized, but any larger projects require more information.

“There is deferred maintenance, there is need for some repair so that it is a safe facility,” Lesher said.

For those immediate repairs, Lesher suggests hiring a consultant to reassess the Pima County Adult Detention Center.

The commission’s final report includes examples of “leaks, cracked walls, peeling wall facades, floor settling, pipes and plumbing issues, water leaks, and flooding,” that were presented to the commission by Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.

Reducing Jail Population

Both the options the Blue Ribbon Commission deemed feasible - renovation or rebuilding - were drafted using jail population projections from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. According to that data, the jail would need an additional 1,100 beds to function for the next 20 years.

Lesher’s advice to the board of supervisors is to re-evaluate and draft a new commission to explore lowering the jail’s capacity.

“Much of the discussion was about looking at today's population, and making projections into the future, assuming the same kinds of numbers would be moving into the jail. Do we have people looking at whether or not this is the best way to operate a facility in terms of continuing to incarcerate at the same levels?” she said.

According to the memo, the new commission would “consider possible improvement alternatives that explore a lower bed capacity than projected by the Commission, incorporating specific programmatic proposals to reduce jail populations, based on a larger review of the criminal justice system and possible procedural changes….”

Changing Health Needs

Lesher’s memo maintains the findings that the current infrastructure is unequipped to handle the healthcare demands of the current population, specifically in the areas of mental health and drug detox.

“The current facility does not meet current needs of medical staff, with no room for additional needed exam rooms, private contacts or therapy space,” Lesher wrote.

According to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, the mental health unit operates on an average of 112% above capacity, and over 800 individuals are put on detox protocols every month.

In her memo, Lesher recommends the board increase funding to health services within the corrections department for the fiscal year starting in 2025.


The commission previously called building a brand new $800 million building “the best option for long-term benefit of capital investment,” in the report of its initial findings.

Cost estimates for renovation still land at over $600 million, and nearly half of the respondents to the commission’s public survey said they were unwilling to vote for any increase in taxes to pay for such a project.

According to Lesher, the status of that problem is clear.

“There is no funding for this today,” Lesher said.

Lesher’s fourth and final recommendation is the creation of a County Finance Working Group for more clarity on general obligation bonds, or the Sheriff’s initial recommendation of a half-cent sales tax.

The board is scheduled to discuss Lesher’s suggestions and the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report at their next meeting on Feb. 20.

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