Troubled parolees could be moved from a controversial reentry center in north Phoenix to the former location of the Tent City jail, according to a proposal from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.
Last year, neighbors picketed and called the governor to demand the closure of the new Maricopa Re-entry Center. The center is located on Adobe Mountain Juvenile Corrections property, near I-17 and Pinnacle Peak Road. It houses people who committed technical parole violations, keeping them in the community instead of sending them back to prison. The center also housed homeless sex offender parolees for a short time, and it provides drug treatment programs.
"The biggest concern was that adult offenders were coming in that weren't secure, when we've always had a secure juvenile facility," activist Julie Read said. Her group urged the governor to move the facility to a place closer to downtown social service agencies and away from their family neighborhoods.
Gov. Ducey is now pitching a new location, as he envisions a bigger program to give ex-convicts second chances. He would like to build two facilities next to the Maricopa County jails, on county property near 35th Avenue and Durango Street. In addition to a larger re-entry center, he wants to relocate two inmate employment centers to the site. The employment centers provide job training and job placement to prison inmates nearing release.
"We think if we do have success with this program," Ducey said. "Not only do we drive down recidivism and keep people out of our corrections facilities, but we've got people working and paying taxes."
"My fear is the voice of the community won't be heard," State Rep. Reginald Bolding said. He is one of several Democratic politicians who represent south Phoenix who are speaking out against the governor's plan. The Democrats say they believe in the mission of the re-entry and employment centers, but nearby neighborhoods and schools should be considered in the decision.
"South Phoenix is tired of being the dumping ground of any type of program that the rest if community does not want," Maricopa County Supervisor Stave Gallardo said.
Ducey wants critics to consider the alternatives.
"Do we want these people released into a setting were they have no opportunity, no job, and their only choice is to go do something stupid, criminal or violent?" the governor questioned.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has signed a letter of intent to explore several potential locations on county land to build the prison centers.
"I’m sure there will be concerns and issues that will need to be addressed along the way, but I’m confident we can come up with a solution that is right for the community," said Chairman Denny Barney.
"It all has to be choreographed in such a way that it not only makes sense for today, but for tomorrow, and years down the road," County Supervisor Steve Chucri said.
Sheriff Paul Penzone said he already has plans for part of Tent City. He is creating an opioid treatment program for county inmates. Penzone says he will only support the state prison centers on jail property if the public safety threat is mitigated, the program really can reduce recidivism, and if there's no impact to the county budget or resources.