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Maricopa County gets new jail, intake facility

(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Kinnerup)

PHOENIX — If you look up at the midmorning sun streaming through the high ceiling skylight onto the open seating, you’d probably forget you’re still in jail.

But for many, that was the point.

The new Maricopa County Intake Transfer Release facility near 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road operates as a medical and mental health check center, social work office, municipal court, county court and 512-bed temporary holding facility.

“We’re kind of going with the model here of ‘if you treat our staff with respect, you follow our rules, you don’t damage our property this is going to be an easier process for you,'” Brian Lee, deputy chief with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s Custody Bureau, said.

Think of it like the Motor Vehicle Division. Everyone sits in open seats waiting for their name to be called to move onto the next phase.

“This is a major change from what we have in our current jail,” Lee said. “The defendants are actually sitting out in these areas and there’s a lot of self transports involved here.

“Rather than having detention officers physically pull them out of a cell and bring them over to an interview process with correctional health services or talk to arresting agencies our ID people our mug shot people. We can actually say ‘Mr. Smith, come up to window number 3.'”

The new intake facility takes on this idea of “direct supervision” which places a deputy desk in a monitoring position of an open space instead of placing defendants in individual cells.

The entire facility also adds far more natural light and higher technology security at the beginning of the intake process to the benefit of both defendants and those working in the facility.

Just past the intake areas are the two courtrooms.

The county court now has better seating for those wanting to watch in person rather than just on a monitor, a place where victims can be shielded from defendants but still be seen by the judge and take part in the process and interview rooms for defendants to meet with their attorneys.

“It’s something that’s so different from what we have in the Fourth Avenue Court,” Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Melissa Zabor said.

The municipal court also embraces the open seating concept as well with spaces for defendants, victims and other functions of the court all in one open court room.

These improvements from the Fourth Avenue facility, which was designed and built in the 1970s, are intended to not only make the experience better but more efficient.

Presiding Judge Joseph Welty said the hope is to avoid keeping defendants longer than 48 hours.

“It’s principally because if you spend more than 48 hours in custody, you’ll lose your job, you’ll potentially lose your housing, you could lose your children,” he said.

The more than 500 bed holding facility allows for plenty of natural light, open bunks and also more confinement if needed.

The housing is broken up into 8 units with 64 beds each, there are also outdoor recreation areas in case defendants are held for longer than 72 hours.

There is also a large public lobby with new monitors that county workers said they hope will engage the public and embrace transparency.

The new county intake facility is scheduled to open April 12.

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