/ Modified aug 22, 2023 11:42 a.m.

Frustration, grief over inmate deaths evident at new Pima County jail forum

The public questioned whether a new jail will stop people from dying in custody.

360 PIMA JAIL INMATES Two inmates stand in a hallway at the Pima County Jail.

A Pima County Blue Ribbon Commission reconvened virtually on Monday to receive public comment on the county’s efforts so far to rebuild the Pima County Adult Correction Center. The meeting was rescheduled from Aug. 10, after protestors forced that meeting to adjourn after just four minutes.

The commission estimates that the new jail would cost around $400 million dollars in order to meet future capacity projections and fix facility issues.

Chosen speakers expressed collective frustration and distrust towards the Pima County Sheriff’s Department during the meeting. They questioned both the necessity for a newer, bigger jail, and whether or not the issue of inmate deaths would be solved by a new building.

A list of names of individuals who died in the custody of the corrections center in the past two years was read multiple times by audience members.

Commissioners responded to concerns by claiming that the issue of inmate deaths is not part of their charter from the County Administrator.

“For people to criticize us for basically doing what we were asked to do is a little disingenuous. We're not saying that it doesn't matter, we're just saying that it's beyond our scope,” said Commission Chair Daniel Sharp.

Tiera Rainey, Executive Director of the Tucson Bail Fund, expressed her disappointment in the commission’s stance.

“These are people who've lost their loved ones in really traumatic ways. And to simply say it's out of the scope, I really encourage you all to do better,” Rainey said.

She blamed the deaths in the jail on “a culture of dehumanization and neglect,” not the infrastructure problems.

“They've allowed [the jail] to get to this point of crisis. And they're being rewarded with potentially a $400 million new facility,” she said.

The existing Pima County Jail building is 40 years old. Commissioner David Ollanik denied any mismanagement of the facility and said that 40 years is towards the end of the lifespan for a building with its level of use.

He also said a jail redesigned with modern correction facility management will address public concerns.

The next step for the Blue Ribbon Commission is working on an initial findings draft. That document will then be made available to the public for further comment.

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