Progress apparent after Maricopa County jail body scanners fully installed, Penzone says

Aug 10, 2023, 10:36 AM

hand in latex glove holding pulls...

(Facebook File Photo/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

(Facebook File Photo/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX — With installation of body scanners to detect drugs and other contraband finally completed at Maricopa County jails, Sheriff Paul Penzone said Thursday that progress is already tangible.

“I mean, we’ve seen considerable improvement. You know, we’re ahead of pace on (drug) seizures. The team is really excited from this context,” Penzone told KTAR 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

The machines’ installation, which was completed by Aug. 3, came about seven months after Penzone said they would become standard in jails.

Penzone held a press conference in January announcing the move after he revealed a detention officer who’d been working at the Lower Buckeye Jail was arrested for attempting to smuggle pills into the facility.

Seizing drugs and other illegal contraband is among many issues MCSO is attempting to resolve. Previously, it wasn’t a guarantee that inmates caught with drugs while in custody would see additional charges stemming from the contraband, the sheriff said. Now, new leadership is changing the course.

“[Maricopa County Attorney] Rachel Mitchell has done a phenomenal job of teaming up with us and assigning prosecutors, and what our investigators are seeing is just really a much more fluid and quick process to get these charges on the people who are trying to jeopardize the safety of our jail system and they’re seeing outcomes,” Penzone said.

“So what that’s done is it has create this kind of — it motivated them to be more engaged, to be more disciplined with it.”

He said there’s still more work to do in order to build a jail system with accountability unlike any other.

What is Penzone looking for from his staff?

“We’re making an evaluation on who we are as a jail system right now because our jail population is down from what it was 3 or 4 years ago. So how do we manage that? I think the staff does an exceptional job handling it,” Penzone said.

“But what we need – and I talk to my staff about this – is to be our own best recruiters. Every individual employee has to show pride in what they do. They have to express that to the people around them with the hopes that you’ll find that young man or woman who decides, ‘you know what, I didn’t think about it, but that’s for me.'”

He said hiring for detention officers has been flat, but there’s a slight increase on the horizon.

“I’d love to see anybody listening to come on down and apply, or get online and apply, and there’s a great job waiting for you,” Penzone said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

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Progress apparent after Maricopa County jail body scanners fully installed, Penzone says