Juveniles in Maricopa County adult jail don’t receive accredited education

Maricopa County Jail (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Maricopa County Jail (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is not providing accredited educational services to the juveniles held in its adult jail.

During last week’s meeting of the ad hoc committee on juvenile justice, MCSO Deputy Chief of Custody Brian Lee said 27 civilian Sheriff’s Office employees oversee the program. MCSO has considered outsourcing the job to the Maricopa County Educational Service Agency, which provides educational services at the Durango Juvenile Detention Facility, but ultimately, chose not to use the accredited program.

“I can’t speak to exactly what that means in the education world,” Lee told the committee.

But Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, could.

“That’s a problem,” she told Lee.

Carter told the Arizona Capitol Times it means the credits juveniles earn while in MCSO’s custody at the adult facility will not necessarily be transferable upon returning to an accredited institution. Accommodations could be made to do so, but there is no guarantee.

And Carter said that’s obviously problematic when the state is trying to help those kids get back on track.

Glenn Young, MCSO’s Custody Support Division commander, said the program is not accredited because it is not a diploma-granting institution but rather offers only a GED. The curriculum is provided by Edmentum, a computer program that assesses the juveniles’ education levels.

He could not speak to why the program was not transferred to an accredited provider, whether that was because of cost or logistical issues.

While Young said he wouldn’t say this does not pose a disadvantage to the students the program serves, he noted the short periods of time juveniles typically spend at the facility.

Most are awaiting trial, he said, and the time it would take to progress to the GED level is much the same it would be on the outside – students would still need years to achieve a GED, which is “extremely uncommon” when the average jail sentence is 28 days, he said.

And after the juveniles are sentenced, the facilities they might go to for longer periods are geared toward meeting long-term educational needs.

The adult facility is currently housing 92 juveniles, most of whom have been charged with violent crimes as adults. Lee said five juveniles are being held for federal authorities because the nature of their alleged crimes prevented other juvenile facilities from accepting them.

Young said MCSO’s civilian staff in charge of their education includes:

  • 14 teachers, all of whom are qualified, and all but one have classroom experience outside of MCSO’s jail
  • Five teacher assistants, who are selected using the county’s human resource department and most of whom hold advanced degrees
  • Two education supervisors, including the principal, who has 30 years of public school experience
  • A behavioral specialist
  • A social worker
  • An administrative assistant
  • Three detention officers

Lee told the committee that educating the young inmates has been a challenge for the staff, and he noted significant differences between that program and the one at Durango.

At the Durango facility, Lee said the kids are provided a more open, “learning-focused environment.

But at the adult facility, he described a far more bleak “security-focused environment” where the juvenile inmates are handcuffed to their desks in tight, dimly lit quarters.  

Young said some students are handcuffed by their non-writing hands to prevent fights among the sometimes volatile group, and there is an “open classroom” they can work toward with good behavior.

Still, at the committee hearing, Lee was concerned by the conditions.

“Obviously, we have to be mindful of security,” he said, “but I think a lot gets lost in that.”