Feb 072014

By Tammy Gray
Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark has a plan to generate extra income for the county by offering jail inmates an optional cell upgrade. Inmates who wish to pay a daily fee may serve their time in cells that have cable television hookups, electrical outlets and generous access to the recreation yard, as well as smoking privileges.
Clark explained that a previous contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections to house prisoners brought much-needed income to the county government. With the construction of a new private prison, however, the DOC no longer has a need to contract with the county for inmate services, leaving the cells empty and the county’s income reduced.
As a provision of the former contract with DOC, state prisoners housed at the Navajo County Jail were given certain privileges not allowed to county inmates. Clark explained that the DOC required that inmates housed at county facilities have the same amenities and privileges as those housed at state-run DOC facilities. As a result, the county remodeled a section of the old jail to separate DOC prisoners from county inmates, and to include the necessary wiring and accessories to meet the state’s requirements.
A total of 50 cells are available to inmates who want to upgrade, including 34 for men and 16 for women. The cost to upgrade is $20 per day and is collected in advance. Each inmate must also provide his or her own television set, and use headphones to keep noise down. The upgrade also entitles inmates to use certain food preparation items in their cell. A hallway leads directly from the group of cells to a separate rec yard, allowing inmates to come and go between the two areas as they wish during certain hours. The rec yard has a special electrical outlet for safely lighting cigarettes, which may be smoked at any time in the area.
“I’m not making their life easier,” Clark said. “They’re making their own life easier by getting the same rights as a DOC inmate.”
Not every inmate will qualify to upgrade to the special section of the jail. According to Clark, inmates must meet certain classification requirements. Inmate classification is based on the individual’s criminal history, current charges and behavior while incarcerated. Those who are classified as posing a potential security threat, or a physical threat to others, will not be allowed to upgrade their accommodations.
“They have to be part of general population,” he said.
Clark explained that the idea for the cell upgrade program came from Maricopa County. According to Clark, inmates in Maricopa County who do not wish to be housed in tent city may pay to serve their time at the Scottsdale Police Department facility instead.
“It’s a way for the county to help pay for the facility and save money,” he remarked. “Later, if we need that space, we’ll tear it out and use it, and the program will end.”