<BR>Corrections director calls for cutting costs by keeping certain inmates in county jails
The director of the Arizona Department of Corrections has proposed cutting costs by keeping more than 1,000 inmates in the county jails instead of state prisons.
However, the plan would be carried out at the expense of the counties, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan and others said.
Corrections Director Terry Stewart has said his proposal, which requires approval in the Legislature, would free up beds in state prison, thus saving the state the costs of more prison beds.
The cost to add prison space is about $40,000 per inmate, he said.
The proposal would save the state an average of $58 per day per inmate, Stewart said.
"I've got a real bed crunch.
I don't have anywhere to put these people," he said.
Stewart has proposed keeping two categories of inmates in county jails.
One category is those sentenced to four months in prison for felony driving under the influence as a condition of probation.
The other category is inmates awaiting sentencing for felony DUI who have less than a year to serve in prison because they have received credit for time spent in jail.
The proposal has flexibility, Stewart said.
The Legislature would decide which counties would be affected or would allow the counties to participate voluntarily.
"I tried to make a proposal that would help the state on one hand and not burden the counties that couldn't handle it on the other hand," Stewart said.
However, Sheahan expressed concern that the counties would bear the additional cost of housing the inmates.
"I feel it would put the additional burden from the state on the counties again," Sheahan said.
"It would stretch our already-tight jail space."
He said the county now spends less than $50 a day per jail inmate, adding the state currently pays the full costs of convicted inmates who are awaiting transport to a prison.
He said the county would no longer receive that reimbursement if the inmates serve the remainder of their terms in the county jail.
Sheahan said he does not know how many inmates would be affected.
The main jail currently houses about 290 inmates and the jail annex has 80 to 100 inmates.
Stewart said he does not know how many people convicted in Mohave County are serving less than a year for DUI.
He supplied a fax indicating that 1,092 inmates would be diverted this fiscal year if the Legislature were to approve his proposal, including 204 serving four-month sentences.
Stewart may not count on the support of state Rep.
Jim Sedillo, D-Flagstaff.
Sedillo, who acknowledged that he has not seen the proposal, indicated that he opposes what he knows about it and is sympathetic with financially strapped county governments.
"Again, they can see this as an unfunded (state) mandate," Sedillo said.
"It affects local government and the jails a lot more.
I would have to agree with the counties."
Sedillo said that if the proposal becomes law, counties should have the choice of deciding whether to volunteer, "if they think it is an appropriate avenue to pursue."
Stewart, who made a presentation to the House of Representatives last month, said he has not talked to enough lawmakers to find out what they think about his plan.
He added that he spoke to a representative from the Arizona Association of Counties and sent copies of his plan to all 15 county sheriffs, only two of whom protested.
Sheahan was not one of them, Stewart said.
Sheahan said he will carry out the plan if it becomes state law.
"We have a very good relationship and dialogue with the Department of Corrections," he said.
"We are going to do what is needed."