PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is dropping efforts to open a prison employment center and housing for former inmates who violate release conditions at the county jail in south Phoenix, putting an end to a plan that drew backlash from local officials and the community.
Ducey’s office announced the news late Thursday but cited a lack of cooperation from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office as the reason.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to obtain data from the Sheriff’s Office on who is currently housed at this complex and which offenders are coming and going, nor have we been given access to tour this site, as initially offered,” governor’s spokesman Patrick Ptak said. “At this time, we do not have confidence to proceed with a state investment here.”
The state had proposed turning the recently closed Tent City’s Durango Jail complex into the site of a 335-bed employment training center for soon-to-be released inmates. The plan for the site included a 265-bed community corrections facility to house inmates who break release rules. The new centers would replace much smaller job training facilities at two prisons west of the city and a north Phoenix community corrections center.
In a statement issued Friday, the office of Sheriff Paul Penzone, a Democrat, accused the Republican governor of trying to rush the project for political gains.
“Although the Governor’s Office would like to misrepresent the challenges in this process, the intent to execute a project that would come at a yet to be determined, potential cost of over $20 million to the State and $40 million to the County for replacement structures cannot be responsibly evaluated in a two-month timeframe,” the statement said.
While the proposal had been in the works for months, business owners and local officials who represent the area publicly slammed the plan last month. Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo called it “environmental racism” and criticized the idea of putting more inmates in a low-income, minority community that already has jails, a prison and a large homeless shelter. Opponents also noted a larger homeless shelter is set for construction in the area.
Gallardo on Friday echoed the sheriff’s sentiments, tweeting Ducey’s attempt to relocate a re-entry program to south Phoenix “was more about politics than real solutions to reduce recidivism. I look forward to having a full and complete discussion on all the issues relating to criminal justice reform.”
Ducey’s office says his proposed state budget will further address recidivism efforts and that the governor remains committed to helping former inmates get a second chance.
Tent City, which was started by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 1993, shuttered in October. The barbed-wire-surrounded compound had been part of a broader campaign by Arpaio to enact get-tough measures in his jails.
Penzone previously expressed a desire to turn part of the closed jail complex into a place where inmates could receive substance-abuse counseling programs.