/ Modified nov 21, 2023 3:31 p.m.

Activist groups protest new jail ahead of findings report

Members of No Jail Deaths, Community Care Tucson, and Community on Wheels spoke out against a potential new jail at the Pima County Board of Supervisors this week.

No jail deaths continues public hearing A local advocacy group, No Jail Deaths, continues a public meeting after the Pima County Adult Detention Center Blue Ribbon Commission decided to end the meeting due to disruption from the protestors on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 at the Pima County Historic Courthouse.
Paola Rodriguez/AZPM News

A few dozen community activists gathered early Thursday morning in front of the Pima County Administration building to urge the Board of Supervisors to deny any proposal for a new jail.

The Blue Ribbon Commission, chartered by the county late last year, is expected to release its final recommendations at the end of the month on whether the county should build a new jail.

“We're urging them to vote no on whatever proposal comes out. Any expansion of the Pima County Jail, we are absolutely against. Jails are inherently traumatic and violent,” said social worker and community organizer Liz Casey.

The commission of ten volunteers has held meetings and taken public comment since January. It was formed after Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos requested last December that the county build a new jail, calling its current state “a full-blown crisis.”

But the meetings have been an epicenter of community grief and frustration over the unprecedented number of deaths that have occurred in the jail in recent years.

A November 7 memo from County Administrator Jan Lesher to the Board confirmed that there have been 22 deaths since the contracted healthcare provider Naphcare took over two years ago. But ongoing reporting by AZ Luminaria has shown that number is higher, and certain loopholes are allowing deaths to go unreported.

Projections for a potential new correctional facility put the cost at nearly $400 million dollars, and also increase its capacity by 30%

In past meetings, commissioners have said solving the issue of inmate deaths is not in the scope of their charter, and that a newer, updated facility would address the public’s concerns.

“For people to criticize us for basically doing what we were asked to do is a little disingenuous. We're not saying that it doesn't matter, we're just saying that it's beyond our scope,” said Commission Chair Daniel Sharp at the Aug. 21st meeting.

Casey says a newer, bigger jail will not fix the crises at play in Tucson’s community.

“No matter how much how nice you make it, [the jail] is going to continue to be just used as housing, and a warehouse for people who use drugs, who live in poverty, who are houseless, and who have mental illness.”

The commission’s report is expected at the end of the month.

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