Arizona county could release prisoners over guard vaccination layoffs

The Pima County board of supervisors voted in November to require vaccinations of all workers before the end of the year.

Updated: December 10, 2021 - 11:22pm

An Arizona county is looking into expediting the release of inmates in case its COVID-19 vaccination mandate results in the loss of half of its corrections officers.

Acting Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher wrote city officials about the issue, saying the Pima County Adult Detention Center faces a potentially significant loss of manpower when the vaccination requirement for employees takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

The County board of supervisors voted in November to require vaccinations of all workers before the end of the year. At that time, any correctional officers who have declined to be vaccinated would “face termination if an accommodation is not possible.”

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

Lesher has asked a group of officials to form a task force to “determine how to the jail population might be reduced safely.”

The memo doesn’t elaborate on which inmates, or how many, would need to be freed.

According to the KGUN, 218 workers in the county sheriff’s department are set to be fired. Lesher said in a separate memo that the prison could lose 206 corrections officers and managers, roughly half of the facility personnel of the type.

State Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, on Thursday filed an official request for the Arizona Attorney General’s office to investigate whether Pima County broke state law when they released a couple of subsequent memos on firing unvaccinated workers.

"I am asking the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the decision by Pima County Supervisors to fire unvaccinated correctional officers, or any staff for that matter, without honoring their right to a religious exemption, as per A.R.S.23-206,” Townsend wrote in a press release. “This is a new level of tyranny that we have not seen in this state. I will not stand for this, and neither will my colleagues. We stand ready to push back and restore sanity to Arizona.”

In August, Townsend filed a similar complaint regarding the City of Tucson’s vaccination mandate.