New sheriff in Arizona to close controversial 'Tent City' jail

Rachel Hardy
April 6, 2017

In an interview with KTAR-FM two months ago, Penzone said a committee examining Tent City has discovered that the vast majority of inmates preferred to be incarcerated outdoors rather than being locked up behind the walls of conventional jail cells.

In addition to living in old military tents under the hot desert sun, inmates at Tent City wore old-fashioned striped jumpsuits.

The decision by Sheriff Paul Penzone to close the almost 24-year-old Tent City complex will undo a critical piece of Arpaio's political legacy. Inmates at Tent City can move freely, have to report to their bunks only three times a day and can pass the time in a nearby air-conditioned room, Penzone said. We're pleased to have been part of this process to provide our input. At its peak, the facility housed 1,700 inmates, according to Penzone.

"Jail isn't supposed to be fun, but we can use it more effectively to help those who make mistakes break the cycle of criminal behavior, " he said.

"Today, the circus ends, and the tents come down", said Sheriff Penzone, during the news conference.

"That may have been the intent when it was first opened and there was a need, but this facility became more of a circus atmosphere for the general public, " Penzone said. "It is not cost effective and it is not tough on criminals", Penzone said.

The detention facility became a prominent symbol of the tough-on-crime administration of Penzone's predecessor, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Everything they did at Tent City was outside, because Tent City was outside, too.

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"The next step in removing Apraio's stain from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is to remove federal deportation agents from its main jail", GarcĂ­a said.

During his campaign, Penzone hinted that he would shutter Tent City, but often emphasized the importance of basing that decision not on conjecture or gut instincts, but data and fact.

His office promoted celebrations for the upcoming anniversaries of Tent City and bragged in news releases that four presidential candidates had toured the tents and that a liberal magazine had deemed the complex one of the worst jails in America.

"Closing Tent City doesn't mean you aren't going to jail in Maricopa County".

"I think he's insulting all the circus people", said Arpaio, referencing Sheriff Penzone's quote that the "circus ends". "It tells you that this negative image that we've gotten since 1993, that we are so tough on prisoners in Maricopa County that this is how we treat them - that this is false", Grant Woods, who led the review, said at the news conference.

Closing Tent City complex would undo a critical piece of Arpaio's six-term political legacy.

"The days of Arizona being a place where people are humiliated or abused or ridiculed for the self-aggrandizing of others are over", Woods said.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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