Prisoners will soon be sharing the ride with Metro light rail passengers under a new transportation arrangement the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office instituted Tuesday.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the bill would save the county about $72,000, or $197 a day, in fees for parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a figure the Tribune could not independently verify.
Armed deputies will be escorting prisoners who have been extradited from out of state on the last leg of their journey.
They will catch the light rail at 44th and Washington streets and ride it to Central Avenue and Washington Street, a stop that is a few blocks from the Fourth Avenue Jail.
Arpaio said they will walk to the jail from that downtown stop.
“We walk prisoners around downtown all the time,” he said.
Hillary Foose, Metro spokeswoman, said her agency is concerned for the safety of the passengers because public transportation is not designed for prisoner transportation.
“We can’t prevent this,” Foose said. “This is public transportation.”
Arpaio said he isn’t worried about the risk.
“Everyday law enforcement is transporting inmates on airplanes, on trains, so this is nothing unusual other than we’re using the new light rail to transport prisoners,” Arpaio said.
Foose said someone from the sheriff’s office had inquired about free passes in the last week and mentioned “this kind of potential use.”
The ride is going to cost deputies and the prisoner the standard single ride fare of $1.25 each.
“We cannot gift passes,” she said.
All Arizona sheriff’s are required to transport prisoners who are extradited from out of state to their respective counties.
Arpaio said his office typically does one per day and sends two armed deputies for the extradition and transports the prisoners on commercial flights.
Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for Tempe-based US Airways, said the airline allows prisoner transports on its commercial airlines so long as a law enforcement officer is with them.
A call to United Airlines was not immediately returned.
The federal government has its own system for moving federal prisoners, known as the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, or Con Air.
According to the U.S. Marshals Service Web site, the system is made up of large and small jets, buses and vans and moves about 300,000 prisoners a year between prisons, courts and foreign countries.
Arpaio said extraditions typically take two to three days and deputies would leave their cars at the airport while they traveled.
“We have to pay, we don’t get it free from the city of Phoenix,” Arpaio said.
However, Sky Harbor officials said all law-enforcement agencies can park for free at the airport.
“City of Phoenix Airport Police Bureau accommodates fellow law enforcement agencies from around the state that need to park at the airport for the purpose of transporting prisoners,” said Deborah Ostreicher, Deputy Aviation Director. “There is no charge for this service.”
Ostreicher added: “The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office currently uses this service.”