Pima County, Arizona, may have to reduce the number of prisoners being held in the county’s jails due to a new COVID vaccine mandate affecting jail employees.
The county Board of Supervisors enacted a new vaccination requirement on November 2. The new rule requires vaccines for county workers who deal with “vulnerable populations.” The new mandate covers jail workers. The deadline for compliance is January 1, after which non-compliant employees will be subject to termination.
The Pima County Administrator’s office, Jan Lesher, sent a memorandum to the board advising that the county jail population may need to be “reduced” if the county loses a substantial number of corrections officers due to the mandate.
Lesher wrote that the county currently has a substantial number of unvaccinated officers working at the county’s Adult Detention Center. She added that if that situation exists after January 1, the jail may not have sufficient officers for the current persons housed at the facility.
She also wrote that after any needed reduction in the inmate population is accomplished because of the mandate, the county will continue to lower incarceration rates in Pima County.
Rex Scott is a member of the board of supervisors and told Fox News that in the event jail inmates must be released because of the mandate, they will be “non-violent and non-dangerous” inmates who are primarily in jail because of probation violations.
Scott said that any necessary releases will be handled by the sheriff, probation officers, and the county attorney on a “case-by-case basis.” He added that he hopes that need does not arise as more correctional officers become vaccinated.
Scott also said that there are now 187 county correctional officers who are unvaccinated. He said that he thinks the new rule for jail employees is “reasonable” in that it is not a “sweeping mandate” affecting other county employees, including “rank and file deputies” only working part of the time with “vulnerable populations” out in the community.
The Pima County jail released some inmates due to COVID-19 previously in April 2020. At that time, the population was decreased temporarily at the beginning of the pandemic to prevent infections inside the jail.
The prisoners subject to release were held for low-level property crimes, probation violations, and simple drug possession. In her recent memorandum to the board, Lesher wrote that she expected the same classifications of offenders would be subject to release if the jail finds itself short-staffed.