Pima County Upgrades Juvenile Facility for Violent Offenders
(12/11/2009)

TUCSON, Ariz. — Pima County is spending almost $1.2 million to upgrade its juvenile detention facility to house violent juvenile offenders currently held at the county jail.

Next year, officials will begin housing violent juvenile offenders at the existing juvenile detention facility in an effort to free up much needed bed space at the county’s overcrowded adult jail.

Under the plan, building interiors at the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center will be retrofitted to accommodate high-risk violent offenders and monitoring and control of facility access and circulation will be enhanced.

Nonviolent and violent offenders will be segregated to ensure the safety and security of low-risk offenders, officials say. Officials also plan to hire additional correctional officers to staff housing units for violent offender.

Interior security measures and systems will also be upgraded as part of the retrofit and razor wire will be deployed to increase perimeter security.

The $1.2 million retrofit offered the quickest and least expensive solution to the overcrowding issue, officials say.

Expansion of the jail to relieve overcrowding with new bed space was projected to cost more than $90 million, while a 2006 proposal to construct a separate juvenile facility for violent offenders carried a price tag of almost $30 million.

The county’s adult jail has housed juveniles as young as 14 years old since the 1990s, after voter-approved legislation mandated that violent juvenile offenders be treated and housed as adults.

Juvenile crime rates have declined approximately 20 percent during the last 15 years, while the adult jail is operating at full design capacity of 2,000 inmates including 50 violent juvenile offenders.

Transferring all juveniles from the adult facility to the juvenile facility would create space for at least 100 adult inmates — jail officials double-bunk adult inmates, but maintained a single-occupancy for juvenile offenders.

In contrast, the county’s nearby juvenile detention facility is operating at about 30 percent of its 186-bed design capacity.

However, the juvenile detention center, which is located adjacent to the county’s main juvenile court building has never housed the violent offenders.

The facility opened in 2000 to house only low-risk, nonviolent juvenile offenders in a campus environment of 10 housing units. Each unit features 20 single wet rooms, a central dayroom, communal bathroom facilities and classroom space.

The retrofit and security upgrade project is scheduled for completion by March, officials say.

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