AZ county threatens to set some inmates free if more corrections officers don’t get vaxxed

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The Pima County Board of Supervisors’ vaccine mandate may lead to a self-inflicted staffing crisis in the county jail when the policy goes into effect on Jan 1 as nearly half of the officers in the Arizona County’s jail are not currently jabbed and would face termination under the medical mandate policy.

However, the fallout may not be limited to the 158 officers that have declined the needle. One of the department’s current corrections sergeants predicts that operating with so few officers would create an “outright unsafe environment” that would prompt many fully inoculated officers to resign.

“There are a number of fully vaccinated individuals that will be able to keep their job that are planning on leaving if we lose half the workforce,  Thomas Frazier told KOLD. “It will be an outright unsafe environment.”

“We can not effectively run the facility at the low staffing levels we are and definitely can’t run it minus 150 officers – it’s dangerous,” said Frazier.

Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos explained that about 158 of the 371 officers employed by the department had not rolled up their sleeves for the poke but he was confident that the team would be able to overcome any difficulties that may be associated with losing nearly half of his staff.

“If I lost 158 officers today, would it hurt? Sure it would, would it make things tough and give us some challenges to overcome? Absolutely. Could we do it? Yes,” Nanos said.

The Sheriff is looking at options for how he might deal with the significant staffing shortage.

“Do I have 70 inmates for one corrections officer or do I have 140 inmates for one corrections officer?” Nanos weighed. “Do I go to 12-hour shifts versus 8 hours, do I pay more overtime do I bring deputies in to work the jail? There’s a number of options.”

The county’s chief deputy county administrator is assembling a working group to develop recommendations on how they might reduce the number of inmates, ironically no mention is made of potentially reconsidering the mandate – an action that would immediately solve the problem in the short and long term.

“Currently we have a substantial number of corrections officers who work in the Pima County Adult Detention Center, and are therefore subject to this vaccine requirement, who are not fully vaccinated. Should this be the case on January 1, there may be fewer corrections officer, which may result in a need to reduce the [Pima County Adult Detention Center] population,” Jan Lesher said in a memo to the County Board of Supervisors.

Lesher explained that the options on the table include some of the more drastic options that were employed in the Spring of 2020 during the height of the pandemic but concluded with a statement that reeked of an overarching defund-the-police agenda, perhaps alluding to the true intentions of the mandate.

“I am hopeful that once we are past the immediate efforts to reduce the jail population in connection with the vaccine mandate, we will continue to work to reduce unnecessary use of incarceration in Pima County,” she concluded.

Pima County Supervisor Rex Scott explained that if inmates were released in order to reduce the jail population, they would be non-violent individuals.

“If it does turn out that current detainees in the jail are going to be released, they are non-violent, non-dangerous people who are primarily in there because they violated their probation,” Scott told Fox News.

Reactions on Twitter were mixed, with some seeing the hypocrisy of mandating a vaccine “in the name of safety” while the mandate could potentially force criminals to be released back on the street, and others fully in favor of the mandate.

But Nanos explained that only the courts can release the inmates and reassured the public that he does not plan to endanger the community.

“The community just needs to know that this sheriff will never, ever put them in danger,” said Nanos. “There will never be a decision I make that puts out community in danger.”

Scott felt that the mandate was fair and reasonable because it only affects some, but not all, county employees.

“It’s not a sweeping mandate, for example, within our sheriff’s department, as I said, it only applies to people who work at the jail. It doesn’t apply to rank and file deputies who work out in the community. Those folks may deal with vulnerable populations from time to time. But that’s not their exclusive or primary responsibility,” he said.


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