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MCSO reveals plans for ‘huge shift’ in how it operates jails

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX – Aiming to create a safer environment for staff and inmates, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is planning a “huge shift” in how it operates its jails.

The agency will soon transition to an approach known as “direct supervision” at its existing jails and implement the system at two new facilities that are set to open next year.

“We’re essentially just focusing more attention on the way the inmate population in jails are being observed by our detention staff,” Deputy Chief Brian Lee told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday after the change was announced.

MCSO has been using a system called “podular remote supervision,” Lee said, where staff members check on inmates’ well-being every 30 minutes.

“As we move to the direct supervision philosophy, that kind of transitions and shifts us into a position where detention staff are constantly interacting and engaging in the inmate population, thereby creating a better sense of safety and security for our staff [and] for the inmate population and just creates a better environment for everybody,” Lee said.

Lee said the decision was made after MCSO researched the best way to run the jails scheduled to open in April. The corrections industry in general has been moving toward the direct supervision approach for several decades, he said.

“I commend MCSO custody leadership for implementing these measures to continue improving our jail system as the most efficient in the country,” Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a press release.

Lee said some resistance is expected from staff, so the department is working hard to explain the reasons behind the change.

“That’s why we were wanting to communicate this to the community and internally with our own office,” he said. “It’s important that we prepare everybody for this huge shift that is coming.”

MCSO released a document titled “Case for Change” that details the shift and its benefits. It says the new system is based on the idea that positive reinforcement, communication, accountability and mutual respect is the best way to treat inmates.

“We are trying to set these individuals up for success as they navigate through the criminal justice system, and we are concerned with making a better working environment for our own staff in the interim as well,” Lee said.

Planning for the new jail design and change in philosophy has been years in the making and isn’t related to recent problems in the state’s prison system, according to Lee.

“We’re always learning. We’re always evolving,” he said.

“We’re trying to stay up with current industry trends and best practices, and this is just the result of that.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup contributed to this report.

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