Built over 40 years ago to house 168 inmates, today the Cochise County Jail in Bisbee has been modified to hold as many as 302 inmates. At this writing, the facility holds 280 justice-involved individuals, 237 men, 43 women and 10 remanded juveniles.
This range of ages and genders carries challenges for security and segregation beyond the original design. The jail holds inmates charged for everything from mental health-related issues to drug addiction, violent offenders and much more. Our public safety infrastructure is reliant upon the jail to meet the county’s needs, and it’s clear that we are facing significant challenges that must now be addressed.
The jail is suffering structurally from age, is expensive to maintain, and is extensively outdated by modern criminal justice standards. Over the years, the county has modified the jail to incorporate basic technologies like internet to accommodate radio communications and remote court proceedings. The jail population itself has changed, resulting in the need for more cells to separate men, women and juveniles, as well as better facilities to humanely hold those with mental health concerns. The jail was originally constructed without medical space, which is a necessity for treating all manner of inmate health concerns.
Understanding that further modifications of the aging building expose the county to expensive and growing maintenance, repair and operational costs, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors launched a transparent public process to explore the jail’s basic needs, recommended improvements, and the potential costs to the taxpayers. They have asked the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and county leadership to work together with the community, public health and safety professionals, and finance experts to better understand the issue.
As a result, a Public Advisory Committee, made up of individuals from throughout the community, has been formed to have thoughtful dialogue and provide the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation on possible solutions.
The committee is focused solely on the jail and will conclude its service by making a recommendation on whether the board should call for an election in 2023 to establish a Jail District. The Jail District is one option to provide the much-needed revenue for modern jail facilities and services.
Ultimately, this is a federal, state and local issue. We have worked with our state legislators and our federal representatives to explore additional revenue streams. Many investments, however, are contingent upon the establishment of a Jail District.
This means county citizens must vote to establish a Jail District for the county to receive additional funding. It’s our intention to consider all our financing options to ensure that we are using the taxpayers’ money as effectively as possible and strategically address our public safety issues.
Public safety is key to our quality of life. Our communities are great places to live, work and raise a family. Ensuring that our county remains a safe place to live is one of our core values. Additionally, quality public safety helps protect our property values and plays a key part in our ability to continue to attract residents and businesses.
As our county faces growing immigration and mental health challenges, we must face this issue head-on and continue to consider investments in our public safety and jail system to protect our quality of life.
This initiative is a community effort. We want our fellow citizens to understand and engage in the process by asking questions, submitting comments and following along at www.cochise.az.gov/.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve our community.