Arizona Planning For New Juvenile Prison

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 5:05am
Updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - 3:04pm

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Adobe Mountain School
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
The Adobe Mountain School, located north of Phoenix, is a secured detention facility for juvenile offenders.

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections is planning for a new juvenile correctional facility. The department leases the Adobe Mountain School secure care facility property, located north of Phoenix, from the State Land Department. That lease expires in seven years.

In the meantime, the Department of Juvenile Corrections is soliciting a “programing and planning consultant” for a new juvenile correctional facility, according to a request for quotation posted to the state procurement website.

“The Department is in need of a programming and planning consultant to assist in milestone planning for a new juvenile facility location within a Metropolitan area in Arizona and to help identify the type of juvenile correctional facility the Agency will need,” the request states. “The Department has approximately 7 years left on its state land lease at the current location of 2800 W. Pinnacle Peak Road and needs to plan accordingly for a new location for its juvenile facility.”


The department requests the consultant provide a minimum of three site locations for the new facility.

Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections spokesperson Kate Howard said the department is in the early stages of the process to consider relocating the facility at the end of the lease, “as the value of the land and, therefore, the cost for ADJC to continue occupying that land is projected to increase significantly by 2027.”

Adobe Mountain School is located on land leased from the State Land Department. “The annual lease amount is $1.2 million for FY 2021, and for the remaining 6 years will be $1.5 million annually,” Howard said.

Adobe Mountain School

According to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, after opening in 1970, the Arizona Girls School was renamed Adobe Mountain School in 1975, following a renovation that allowed the facility to house males and females.

Howard said a 2017 study of the condition of the infrastructure and what repairs may need to be made found the “replacement cost” of Adobe Mountain School was $76,377,478.

Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
Jesse Etheridge speaks to KJZZ at Adobe Mountain School in 2018.

Jesse Etheridge was incarcerated at Adobe Mountain School from 2014 to 2019. He said juveniles confined at Adobe Mountain routinely physically and sexually assault one another, and he claimed the youths are abused by staff as well.

Etheridge described the facility as “old and falling apart.”

“Everything there is dirty and disgusting,” he said. “There were so many times I got sick because there’s mold everywhere.”

The size of the facility and the large number of youths there felt overwhelming to Etheridge.

“I thought I was too young to be in a place like that,” he said. “There should be someplace that’s, like, smaller, for kids.”

Etheridge says the therapy and programming he received at the facility did not help him deal with the personal challenges that led him to be incarcerated. And being confined in Phoenix, away from his family in Tucson, made him feel isolated and alone.

“I was not able to see any of my family members that much because at the time my mom didn’t have a car and my sisters didn’t have a car and my dad was working seven days a week,” he said. “I missed them. I was, like, really agitated.”

"I thought I was too young to be in a place like that. There should be someplace that’s, like, smaller, for kids."
— Jesse Etheridge

‘Close To Home’ Model

Mishi Faruqee, national field director of Youth First Initiative, a group that works to close youth prisons, said Arizona should instead look to smaller, community-based solutions.

“Ideally, we would like young people to be with their families,” Faruqee said. “But if they have to be in some kind of secure facility, it’s much more beneficial to have those facilities near their communities so families can visit more often.”

She says sending all Arizona youths to one centrally located prison can harm juveniles by removing them from their school district and other support networks.

Faruqee cautioned against building a new, expensive detention facility, because it would lock the Department of Juvenile Corrections into a building with a set capacity.

“We’ve seen large facilities all over the country that end up having just a few kids in them,” Faruqee said. “And the cost per kid just skyrockets because it’s a fixed cost to run a prison, and you’re spreading that cost over fewer young people.”

She says detaining juveniles in smaller facilities based in communities, as is the practice under the New York State Close to Home Initiative, makes it easier to downsize, should the number of incarcerated juveniles decrease.

Dr. Nina Aledort is the deputy commissioner at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. She oversaw the implementation of the Close to Home Initiative in 2012.

“The goal,” Aledort said, “was to bring young people who were often held in facilities far from their home and their communities out from those, and into small, community-based treatment settings.”

"The goal was to bring young people who were often held in facilities far from their home and their communities out from those, and into small, community-based treatment settings."
— Dr. Nina Aledort, NY State Office of Children and Family Services

Aledort said there are several levels of care in the Close To Home Initiative.

“They range from what’s called ‘non-secure placement,’ which is an unlocked facility, to ‘limited secure placement’ and ‘secure placement’ which are locked facilities.”

She says the system allows the state to take advantage of resources in the community and makes for an easier transition for youths back into society when they are released from detention.

“For example, you don’t need a gym on site when you can go to the local YMCA,” Aledort said.

Aledort describes the facilities as community-based group homes with six to 12 young people. “They look like just any other house in the neighborhood, and they’re staffed 24/7,” she said.

Aledort said the facilities are staffed by civilian youth-care workers instead of correctional officers. “The staff ratios are high. They have an eyes-on, ears-on orientation to the young people and they work with the young people together as a group to be able to become productive adults once they leave.”

She says the average length of stay for a juvenile in a Close To Home facility is between seven and eight months.

Faruqee says the national youth incarceration rate has dropped to the lowest point in 25 years. But the population at the Adobe Mountain School has remained steady in recent years.

According to the Department of Juvenile Corrections, there are approximately 215 youths and 300 staff at Adobe Mountain School. The request for quotation indicates the department is not planning on a reduction of incarcerated youths in Arizona in the coming years.

“The ADJC trend has been to maintain and slightly increase population over the past 5 years,” the request states. “A new facility must provide for enough space to meet the needs of the Agency.”

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