[EDITORIAL] Pinal County jail is financially problematic

Cells at the Pinal County Adult Detention Center  / Photo by Fara Illich/Cronkite News Service
Cells at the Pinal County Adult Detention Center / Photo by Fara Illich/Cronkite News Service

Casa Grande Dispatch

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are posted only for purposes of discussion.)

Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller this week spoke out about his long-standing frustration at losses incurred by the jail in Florence, officially called the Pinal County Adult Detention Center. A key to this problem is a long- term unfavorable contract to house inmates for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The county has been trying to renegotiate the contract for nearly a year with little to show for it. The contract, signed in 2006, was intended to subsidize a larger facility for the county, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

Miller cited statistics indicating that a $22 million- plus price tag for jail expenditures in the last fiscal year could have been cut to $13 million-plus under private operation. The change would involve an out for the federal contract.

Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is mandated by law to operate the jail, disputes the figures and does not favor privatization, saying that would not be legal.

Pinal officials have said that between 2009 and 2013, the contract has cost the county roughly $12 million, not including about $3.5 million in annual debt service payments resulting from the jail expansion. A change in the contract obviously is not in the interest of the federal government. However, if that cannot be achieved, a different approach certainly is called for.

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