/ Modified apr 2, 2024 4:59 p.m.

Supervisors hesitant on new jail commission

Board members said the county has limited jurisdiction when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Pima admin building The Pima County Board of Supervisors meets at the County Administration Building in downtown Tucson.

In the next phase of addressing the deteriorating Pima County Jail, the county is moving forward with a task force that will delve into its history of criminal justice reform, but several County Supervisors are hesitant about the county’s responsibilities.

Last year’s Blue Ribbon Commission recommended either renovating the existing jail or new construction. Both expanded the jail’s capacity by over a thousand people, and with a price tag starting at over $600 million and intense backlash from the community, the Board rejected both proposals in February.

Instead, Lesher recommended another commission that would examine how Pima County’s justice system could lower the jail population.

But before that happens, County Administrator Jan Lesher said a five-month review of the county’s past research and related actions is necessary to help the new commission get right to work.

“It's not a good use of a group of volunteers to spend their first several months sorting through everything that exists,” Lesher said. “So why don’t we pause a moment, we'll put together an internal team of staff to really go through, what's worked, what hasn't worked, so that when we convene, we're really using their expertise wisely.”

Lesher wrote in a memo last week the task force will help inform the makeup and scope of the new commission that she is initially calling the Justice System and Infrastructure Review Committee, set to form this fall.

But almost every Board member has a different take on what should be done about criminal justice reform, and exactly where the county has jurisdiction.

Board Chair Adelita Grijalva told Lesher at this morning’s meeting her biggest concerns were the physical condition of the building. At the same time, the board should recognize their limits.

“We can't control who is in the jail. There are certain pieces of this puzzle that we don't have any authority over, I’m just wanting us to sort of focus our energies on what we can do,” Grijalva said.

Supervisor Rex Scott agreed, and reiterated his previous grievance that the courts have still not been able to provide a report on the composition of the jail population.

“They’re not able or perhaps not entirely willing to let us know who’s there because they are a flight risk or a risk to public safety, and who's there for other reasons. And I just don't want the committee to get bogged down in trying to figure out the composition of the jail population,” Scott said.

The board did not take any official action at the April 2 meeting. The task force’s report is due Aug. 1, after which Lesher said the new commission will be assembled.

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