This story has been updated to include additional comment from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Original story continues below:
Governor Doug Ducey's office has pulled out of discussions about moving a controversial prisoner re-entry and inmate employment center to the Durango Criminal Justice Complex in southwest Phoenix.
Spokesman Patrick Ptak wrote in an email that after weeks of discussion with Maricopa County, which owns the complex, "the state has determined this site is not the ideal location at this time."
He explained, "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. At this time, we do not have confidence to proceed with a state investment here."
The state had been interested that particular site because of its central location, Ptak said. He confirmed that neither the employment center nor the re-entry center will be moving to the Durango complex at this time.
The proposed move had been controversial. In November, a group of elected Democrats who represent south Phoenix held a press conference at the state capitol where they criticized the plan. All emphasized that they were supportive of the governor's efforts to focus on recidivism, but didn't want more prisons or re-entry programs in their neighborhood.
That, in turn, angered advocates for criminal justice reform, who pointed out that the opposition looked a lot like NIMBYism.
Those two groups won't have to battle it out anytime soon, because for now, the plan is dead in the water. The big question is whether the re-entry center still will end up getting moved from its current location in north Phoenix — itself the source of controversy — and if so, where.
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Expect an update in January: Ptak says that the governor's office is currently finalizing their executive budget proposal, which will "further address the next phase of our recidivism efforts."
Update, 5:30 p.m.: Never mind, the drama's not over yet. Here's a response from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (emphasis ours):
"Before investing a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars in a program that is not yet proven, the Sheriff is going to be diligent about vetting all aspects of any proposed project — keeping public safety as the number one priority, and also closely reviewing operational demands and taxpayer expenditures. This process became more about politics than public safety — causing the Sheriff to proceed with greater caution.
The Sheriff will not jeopardize the safety of any community as every proposed project requires thoughtful evaluation. 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."