On May 22, the Mesa City Council voted 4-2 to approve becoming the first Arizona municipality to privatize its jail operations.
With Councilmember Ryan Winkle on requested and council-approved personal leave he was absent from the vote, leaving Vice Mayor David Luna and Councilmember Jeremy Whittaker as the only two to vote against the three-year, $15 million contract with CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) out of Florence, Arizona. Currently, the city pays the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) $6 million a year to house its inmates.
“I know I sit as the minority on this council, but does anyone on this council think we need more lobbyists at City Hall,” Whittaker said before the vote. “I believe we have an obligation to give Paul Penzone more than four months to solve the problem. This is going to destroy the county jail system.”
Luna agreed: “I don’t see why as a city we can’t wait a year to make this decision.”
Mayor John Giles congratulated the Mesa Police Department for “looking at a very innovative way to save $2 million” when all city departments were asked to look at their budgets and ways to save money.
“This is jail reform. We have the county’s attention and I am voting for it to save $2 million for my city,” he said.
Going on to address the overflowing room of residents who were there to oppose the issue, Giles said: “I’m concerned about human rights and preserving constitutional rights and in looking at this issue going back several years ago, the status of the Maricopa County jail system has been in question and brought up and we just heard that deaths (at CoreCivic facilities) are a third of what they are at Maricopa then this is jail reform,” Giles said. “This is what you want and this is what you are here asking for. I’ve toured all these facilities and it made it clearer to me that I have an obligation to vote for this. The Maricopa facility looks more like a mental health facility than a jail.”
But many Mesa residents are still opposed to the move.
“This proposal to partner with CoreCivic, a company well known for its scandals, is shortsighted and hurts Mesa’s reputation,” said resident Caden Gillespie. “Mesa residents deserve better from City Council.”
Area resident Bill Richardson, a retired Mesa police detective and regular contributor to MyNewsMesa.com, was pleased with the vote.
“There’s no such thing as a good jail. Some are worse than others and the Maricopa County jail system is bad,” he said. “Mismanagement by county officials is no secret. The jail system is controlled by the Mexican Mafia prison gang, that’s also not a secret.
“Sheriff Penzone has yet to explain how the billions of dollars in the sheriff’s ‘Jail Tax’ have been spent and why he is increasing the costs to cities to book and house inmates,” Richardson continued. “It’ll be years before Sheriff Penzone fixes what’s long been broken. Mesa has no choice but to look at an alternative to the expensive and dangerous county jail system for people who commit low-grade misdemeanors and are confined for short periods of punishment. Every dollar Mesa saves in jail costs can be reinvested in policing, parks and court programs to prevent and stop crime.”
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.