Billion-Dollar Bad Guys

The county's jails are crammed full. But not with the dangerous felons backers of an initiative to raise money for new jails would have you believe.

Maricopa County is far behind other counties when it comes to pretrial services--a program that identifies and monitors low-risk defendants before their trials rather than locking them up.

The consultants lauded Pima County as a success in diverting defendants from jail. Only 6 percent of the defendants screened by the department were arrested on new charges before their trials, which Kim Holloway, the county's pretrial services executive director, characterizes as a very good number. The county's consultants agree.

Maricopa County, three times Pima's size, also has a pretrial services department, but with only 44 employees, fewer than the 48 employees in Pima County's program. Counties the size of Maricopa, the consultants pointed out, typically have pretrial services departments with 100 or more employees. They recommmended that 32 new people be hired as soon as possible.

Similarly, the consultants' other suggestions were aimed at reducing the jail population by making the jails and courts more efficient. They suggested:

* That the county create an integrated criminal justice information system that would allow various branches of the courts and jails complex to share data. Cost: $20 million to $25 million.

* That 23 Justice Courts in 19 locations be consolidated in four regional centers, and the southeast county criminal divisions be moved downtown, to reduce the cost of transporting inmates. Cost: $5.4 million.

* That the courts eliminate unnecessary proceedings and create more efficient ways to differentiate and manage cases.

* That pretrial services begin electronic monitoring of some inmates. Cost: $783,400.

* That the bail matrix, which courts use to determine bail amounts, be updated. Cost: $150,000.

* That the county provide more programs for substance abusers and modify its drug court, making it available to more defendants.

Together, these steps would cost the county $33 million, but, the consultants wrote, would result in far larger savings.

But it's the 11th recommendation that the November election is really about. New jails will eventually be needed, the consultants concluded, because of the rapid population growth in Maricopa County.

They proposed that the county build 5,507 new beds over the next 15 years, at a cost of $1.4 billion. But the Legislature capped the sales tax at $900 million, so the county will instead build 3,000 adult beds and 388 juvenile beds if voters approve the initiative. Most of the money--about 72 percent--will be required to operate the jails once they have been built.

Tom Irvine, chairman of a citizens advisory committee that reviewed the consultants' report, says he is determined that new jails won't be built without the other improvements. "It was the programs I was interested in," he says. "The programs, they're the most important part."

Irvine insists that the combination of new jails and new programs will make the sales-tax hike a good bargain.

On November 18, 1997, the citizens committee adopted nearly all of the consultants' suggestions and forwarded them to the board of supervisors. This summer, the Legislature allowed the county to put the tax on the November ballot.

If it passes, construction on a new downtown jail near the present Madison Street Jail could begin in about a year.

Not everyone, however, shares Irvine's optimism.
Barbara Cerepanya was also on the citizens committee, which, she believes, was not as independent as it should have been.

Cerepanya, an attorney appointed by Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox to the committee, has served on other citizens advisory boards. She complains that the county employees were assigned to serve the advisory committee, suggesting that the committee was working for the county, not separately from it.

Irvine himself was an odd choice for chairman of an independent citizens committee, Cerepanya says, pointing out that as an attorney who works for the county's stadium district, Irvine seemed to have a conflict of interest.

Irvine says he made it clear at the committee's meeting that he had the dual role, and that no one raised an objection.

"It was clear to me that we were supposed to come to one conclusion, and that was that the county needed a new jail," Cerepanya charges.

Arpaio in particular made this overt, she says. At an early meeting, Cerepanya remembers the sheriff telling the committee that its job was a simple one: to figure out how big the new jail should be and then how to pay for it. His comments are recorded in the committee's minutes.

Cerepanya says the county's interest in the jail became even more evident after a peculiar incident--the strange case of the canceled meeting.

The committee was supposed to meet with the consultants. But county staffers canceled the meeting and gave no reason.

Then, Cerepanya says, she received a phone call from one of the consultants who told her the meeting was still on, but that Irvine, the committee chairman, was the only member still going.

Cerepanya and fellow committee members Jim Stapley, William Holohan and Meyer Turken surprised county employees by showing up at the supposedly canceled meeting.

"You should have seen the look on [county employee] Trina Belanger's face, like a heart attack. We just sat down and acted like we were supposed to be there and asked for copies of things. And they acted like it was no big deal and that they hadn't tried to fuck us," Cerepanya says.

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