A local citizens’ group recently organized in opposition to building a new jail in Prescott rallied Wednesday morning in front of the County Building on Fair Street. An orderly crowd of 75 to 80 protesters gathered to hear speakers, wave signs and march around the county building, shouting their opposition, “Stop the Jail!” and “Not Here, Not Now!”.
Local activists Connie Contelme, Mary Beth Hrin-Campbell and former County Assessor Pam Pearsall spoke in opposition. Among the crowd were current Board of Supervisor Candidates Rand Armstrong (District 4) and Donna Michaels (District 3) along with representatives from Harry Oberg’s campaign. Candidate Oberg has made opposition to the jail the centerpiece of his campaign for District 1 Supervisor. LD1 State Representative Noel Campbell, who has spoken out publicly against the jail, was also present.
The speakers expressed frustration that the BOS (Board of Supervisors) has raised property taxes 18% to build the new jail after voters defeated previous efforts to fund a jail thru sales taxes in 2008 and again in 2014. Although the jail proposal appeared on the BOS agenda several times in 2019 and 2020, until recently there has been little media coverage or public discussion. Jail opponents object to the location of the jail site on Prescott Lakes Parkway, within walking distance of residential areas of the city.
The initial cost of the proposed 144 bed jail and Judicial Center is estimated at 86 million dollars, with many millions more anticipated for the full 600 bed build out. These figures do not include staffing and maintenance costs. The cost to run the current 644 bed County Jail in Camp Verde is over 20 million dollars a year.
The BOS has argued that building a jail in Prescott will save transportation costs. But opponents note that transportation will still be needed between the two jails and the county courthouse in downtown Prescott. Yavapai County is over eight thousand square miles. The fixed costs of jail transport and moving prisoners will always be substantial in an area that size.
Ms. Hrin-Campbell pointed out that Yavapai County overuses its current jail at a huge cost to taxpayers. Pinal County with twice the population of Yavapai County gets along with a single 600 bed jail. “Why does a county half the size as Pinal need two jails and twice as many jail beds,?”, she asks. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, Arizona has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the United States. And Yavapai County jails around 25% more residents per capita than the state average.
None of the current BOS appeared at the rally to address the protesters’ concerns. Jail opponents noted that all incumbent County Supervisors have voted in favor of higher property taxes to fund the jail. Voters were urged to vote them out and replace them with a new slate of Supervisors more responsive to the wishes of county residents.