High School Field Trip to the Pima County Adult Detention Complex

This year I started teaching government to our seniors at Desert Christian High School. I thought, “What better way for my students to understand civic duty, the roles and responsibilities of our local police, and the repercussions for not obeying the law than to take them to our local jail?” With that question in mind, I contacted our local detention center in Tucson, AZ, the Pima County Adult Detention Complex located at 1270 W. Silverlake Road. Here we are, standing in front of the complex after our tour. IMG_20190507_140431_954.jpgRather than me explain what the students learned from the experience, I thought it better to let them explain for themselves. Below are excerpts from their take-away presentations.

The main takeaways that I got from our visit was two things: one being that the officers always have the health of the inmates as top priority and two that this job even though its taxing has rich rewards of helping others. – Emma

I grew up around the idea that jail and prison were the exact same thing, So the people in jail were terrible and very guilty people, who did not have any sense of morals and always desired to do wrong. I was not sure how exactly they were housed together but imagined that it was the typical steel bars and then a hard bed and a sink in the back of cell. I did not think that the officers were concerned at all with the health of the inmates and making sure that they won’t hurt each other. I didn’t know that they were able to have tablets and that there was a “store” inside the housing units that they could shop at. The media represents jail as one of those places that is a rough place to be in. The media tries to make it seem like the jail is not exactly trying to better the inmates, when in reality they totally have the betterment of the inmates in mind. That is why they now have the tablets which they can use for taking classes to educate themselves while they are in jail waiting for their court date. -Emma

In all the movies, the jail seems like a very violent place. Prisoners always fight each other or the officer might be abusive. After hearing the lecture, I won’t say that jail is a happy place, but at least, there’s respect between the prisoners and the officers. I didn’t know they even have things like therapist for the prisoners. The most amusing part to me was that they have tablets to use. – Emily

I value my freedom more, even with the little things like having the ability to drive somewhere to get away for awhile or walking into a grocery store. Picking what i wanted to wear for the day. Having my own bathroom with privacy. It really put into perspective the kind of freedom and rights can be taken away. – Kaitlyn

I always believed that the media’s view on jail and prison was actually true. But honestly it’s the total opposite. Sheriff’s and police officers aren’t punishers. They are only trying to keep you safe. The jail provides great food, care, and protection. When what they show on tv is literally slop, throwing around the prisoners, and not caring what they do. The Pima County Jail does everything they possibly can to protect the inmates from getting physically attacked by other inmates. – Lia

I learned that I have so much more respect for the law enforcement officers. They have such a scary job doing what they do dealing with dangerous and unpredictable people. They are putting their lives on the line. – Lia

I learned that at the Pima County jail they value the integrity of their officers. I was surprised by the small amount of people who made it through the initial testing in order to attend the Academy. I appreciate the fact that they care about the mental health of the inmates so much and that they have a very precise process for anyone who is feeling unstable. It is good to know that they acknowledge the position that many of their inmates are in, especially first time offenders with suicidal thoughts and depression. -Sarah

The most surprising thing to me was that correctional officers in the Pima County jail frequently are in the same room as many of the inmates with no glass whatsoever separating them. Any time I’ve seen such an image portrayed on tv—one officer in the same room as many inmates—it is usually because something has gone terribly wrong (maybe someone with malicious intent unlocked all the cells) and the officer will try to run for his life. At the Pima County jail, this isn’t a panic situation for the officer, but the norm. This design choice was made after reasoning that the best way to be sure that a certain group of inmates does not pose a threat to any officers is to get to know the inmates and their regular daily activities. Of course, different levels of inmates are treated with varying degrees of caution, but I was repeatedly amazed by how much Pima County jail tries to protect the rights of the inmates despite them not being free citizens. – Adam

Although certainly a topic for debate, the Pima County jail seems assured that their decision to give inmates tablets has been largely beneficial. Since technology is such a massive part of people’s lives today, the Pima County jail has chosen not to deprive individuals of technology entirely. The tablets they are given is a gateway to entertainment, education and communication (though the communication is limited and monitored), and therefore the threat of losing one’s tablet creates more incentive for the inmates to behave well. Ultimately, the message I got from our guide at the Pima County jail was that they do everything they can to protect as many people as possible, and they definitely do not condone using unnecessary force against inmates as media often portrays. – Adam

The media shows only the negative effects on a person’s mental health in jail. In the media, there is a constant feeling of danger within the jail. While there is an element of truth to that, the officers at Pima County Jail truly care about the inmates. They talk to them and supply them with their medical and emotional needs. Before anything is done with an inmate they are taken to medical to make sure they’re healthy. Only after the person has been verified to be healthy will the officers continue their work. The high value on people’s health isn’t shown in the media, but it’s a huge factor in real life. – Sky

I learned a lot of things while visiting the jail. First and foremost, I learned what a jail even is. I have always thought of “jail” and “prison” as synonyms. However, this is not the case! Jails are where people are kept until their court date, or if they have a short sentence (less than one year). Prisons are much more serious, and I would assume that they have even stricter rules and security, with even fewer freedoms. I also learned about the different types of officers and jobs that are done around a jail, how the new visitation system works, and how incredibly hard the employees of the jail work to keep everyone (especially the inmates!) safe and healthy. Visiting the Pima County Adult Detention Complex was definitely an eye-opening experience, and I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to go! -Tori

Jail was literally nothing like the media tends to present it to us through TV shows and movies. My jail experience was so much more civil and overall, not a hostile environment whatsoever. The officiers displayed a genuine love and care for the inmates, talking about how they tried to avoid being aware of anyone’s charges, that their treatment of the prisoners would not be susceptible to becoming biased. Additionally, they talked about how they avoided violent means of containment at all costs. In media, they tend to present officers as these corrupted, barbaric individuals, when this image does not represent the majority at all. Additionally, the accommodations of the inmates were the polar opposite of what TV and movies portray. In actual jail, they were provided with tablets in order to utilize its features and better themselves until their release. In media, you see inmates being treated like psychopaths that need to be isolated and taking this field trip made me realize that their lifestyle just isn’t that. – Hannah

There are many factual things I learned on this trip, however my biggest takeaway was the idea of community. When you think “jail” and “police”, community probably isn’t the first word to pop into your head, however after my experience, it was. The inmates, or a least some of them, wanted to improve themselves, wanted to be better people. They would use the tablets to take classes, learn how to manage their anger or study to take college/high school classes… Additionally, the police officers had a deeply genuine care for the wellbeing of the inmates. They would work to build quality relationships with them and respect them, treating them in a civil manner rather than looking down on them. The emphasis of community was huge and in a world where corruption and violence is so evident, this experience, this trip, was a small piece of evidence that not everything is wrong. – Hannah

With the interest of psychology, I learned a lot about an experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment: a group of college students were told to be prisoners or guards and were brought into a mimic prison. The prisoners were “arrested” and had to put on the uniform, the guards had the freedom to run the prison. The result was that they had to cut the experiment off early because the uncontrollable injury was about to happen between the guards and the prisoners. The guards really got into their character, they really felt like they have the power over the “prisoners” that they even forgot they are actually all students and there was abusing happening. This experiment showed how people react to the environment and how we can corrupt with power. But it also left me a bad impression of the jails or prisons which I learned to be false on this trip. Before, I would imagine the jail as a dark, dirty place where the guards are rude and doing whatever to control the inmates. The fact that it is just like every other building was already very mind changing for me. It was totally opposite as what I would imagine, it is not shabby, it’s just special. We learned that most of the officers would even hurt themselves to protect the inmates, that they are really being protected and respected in the prison really blew my mind. Treating people equally is actually very hard to do especially under that circumstance, so I really appreciate how the system works and the fact that most officers can keep doing the right and hard things. – Gia

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