DOC’s Papago Unit now open

The Arizona Department of Corrections Papago Unit, located just outside of Douglas, is now occupied by 50 female inmates who were transferred in here earlier this month.

The Arizona Department of Corrections Douglas complex Papago Unit, located on the outskirts of town, is now the home to 50 female inmates.

Counting the latest arrivals at the Papago Unit, which began arriving around the first of the month, there are currently a little over 2,000 inmates at the ASPC Douglas five housing units.

Bill Lamoreaux, public information officer for ADOC states, ASPC-Douglas currently has 626 employees, 446 of them are correctional officers. There are an additional 80 or so contracted employees that work in health care, food services and other areas throughout the complex.

When first approached about reopening the Papago Unit, Ron Lee, warden of the Douglas prison, saw it as a good opportunity to bring a population back into the Douglas area.

“It is an outstanding opportunity for us to continue a safety and public service to the community and bringing this population here is great,” he said.

The Papago Unit, had originally been a motel on the west side of Douglas that the state purchased in 1987. It had been used as a facility for convicted drunk drivers, but closed in 2017. Legislative staffers said the state put the walled property up for sale in early 2018 for $560,000, but has so far failed to find any takers.

Lee said it wasn’t all that difficult getting the Papago Unit ready to receive the female inmates.

“We have an outstanding physical plant staff, maintenance team,” he said. “We had maintained the facility to some degree all along while it was closed so it wasn’t extremely difficult to spin that back up. We added some updated light fixtures, added some cooler motors, things that happen when a building sits for a while.”

The minimum-security facility has the capacity for 250 permanent beds and 90 temporary beds.

“These inmates typically are within a short time of release,” the warden said. “They cannot be in for murder. They cannot be in for significant crimes that create a public safety risk.”

The warden did say it is possible some of these inmates could be part of prison work crews that are utilized throughout the city.

“We have a fortunate opportunity because when you level a building, it’s gone forever. When you can keep a building preserved, it adds to the attraction,” Warden Lee said. “We see this as a job creator, a place we can house inmates, most effectively as possible, still continue some of their education process and programs and provide a service to the community.”

Warden Lee stated that when Papago closed the job positions that were there, were then transferred to various units across the state.

“Those vacant position numbers were brought back to us and we were able to hire against those,” he said. “Now we have a sufficient on-site staff to augment that. As the regional academy that we have that’s occurring, comes on line and we get those new employees out of training, then we can make additional assignments down here and be ready, should we chose to expand on population we can. I don’t know if we’re going to anytime soon, that’s not in the immediate future in terms of weeks or months.”

Thirty-four correctional line officers will work out of the Papago Unit, the warden said.

“The two academies will help us meet that objective, while still addressing the vacancies that are ongoing either through retirements or resignations,” the warden said. “We always have an ongoing need, just like any employer does.”

A regional seven-week academy began this past Monday at the Douglas Complex on Highway 191. Lee said anywhere between 17-20 cadets were expected to take part.

“The curriculum and the operation cadence of that academy is overseen by our staff development training bureau,” Lee said. “It is exactly the same curriculum, the same operational detail, we use at the academy in Tucson. I see this academy as an ability to hire local. I see it as an ability to rapidly increase our numbers. It helps us expedite our ability to achieve our mission.”

Visitation hours for the Papago Unit are identical for all ASPC-Douglas Units (with the exception of Complex Detention Unit), Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visit https://corrections.az.gov/location/100/douglas for more information or call (520) 364-7521.

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